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What is the Treatment for Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

By Amy Hunter
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Treatment for shift work sleep disorder include lifestyle changes and over the counter and prescription medications. Shift work sleep disorder requires a two-pronged approach to treatment. The patient needs help sleeping and feeling rested during the sleep cycle, as well as help remaining awake and alert during the work cycle.

Lifestyle changes are the most straightforward method of dealing with sleep disorders from shift work. Since the individual is not sleeping at the same time as the general population, it is important to take into account noises that would not normally be a problem. Wearing ear plugs or using a white noise machine while sleeping to muffle outside noise can help, as can turning phone ringers off if possible.

Use blackout drapes, cover the windows with aluminum foil or poster board, or sleep with an eye mask to keep the room dark. Turn digital clocks and appliances away from the bed or cover the displays so the room remains dark. Set the thermostat on 65° Fahrenheit(18° Celsius), as a room that is too hot or too cold makes sleep difficult.

When driving home from work, wear dark wrap-around sunglasses to block the light. This prevents the brain from gearing up for the day, making it easier to fall asleep at home. It is acceptable to drink caffeinated beverages early in the work shift to maintain alertness, but refrain from caffeine, as well as alcohol, for several hours before bedtime, as both disrupt sleep.

Over the counter melatonin is an effective treatment for shift work sleep disorder. Over the counter melatonin is a man-made version of the hormone produced by the body during the night. Artificial light exposure during shift work can interfere with melatonin production, which in turn negatively affects the sleep cycle.

Doctors have several prescription medications that they can recommend for shift work sleep disorder. Sleeping pills can be used for short periods of time, with the goal of regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Antidepressants also help the body adjust to shift work. There are even prescription medications that can help the worker remain alert on the job.

While lifestyle changes and medications can help reduce the problems associated with shift work sleep disorder, such as fatigue, increased risk of on the job and automobile accidents, and difficulty concentrating, changes to the work schedule can be beneficial as well. Decrease the number of shifts worked consecutively. Shift workers sleep less, on average, than straight day shift workers, and this sleep loss builds up over time. One 48 hour off shift at the conclusion of each shift cycle gives the body time to catch up on lost sleep. Furthermore, straight shifts, even night shifts, are easier on the body than rotating shifts.

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Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Mar 04, 2014

Working third shift for me was a challenge, but I found a few little habits to help me get through the week.

One of the most beneficial actions I took was arranging my schedule so that it was dark when I went to sleep. For example, sometimes I was able to get off work in the morning and get home and in bed before sunrise. Other times I would stay awake all morning and go to bed whenever the sun went down. Of course this method didn't help much when sunset was late.

I would go through brief periods of sleep deprivation, and I battled insomnia. Quite often, I used natural sleep aids. There are several herb teas that helped, but sometimes I simply had to wait for my body to decide it was tired and needed to fall asleep.

By Drentel — On Mar 04, 2014

The article talks about the importance of taking a break between shifts. I can speak to the importance of this from personal experience.

At one point, I was working six days a week from 11 at night until 7 in the morning. Eventually, I decided that the one night off was more of an inconvenience because I would sleep at night and then have to get back on schedule the next day. It was tough trying to shift patterns of sleep.

I decided to work seven nights a week so I could stay on the same sleep cycle, and I would be making more money as well. I did this for about a month before I realized that I was killing myself. As it turned out, one night off was much better than working seven nights and keeping the same sleeping routine.

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