If you work irregular hours and are finding it difficult to sleep or stay awake at appropriate times, you may be suffering from Shift Work Sleep Disorder. This plagues so many shift workers, making sleep difficult and even somewhat impossible at times. Some medical experts even say that it’s actually a form of jet lag; after so many weeks of irregular sleep and wake hours, the circadian rhythms in your brain can reset. Those rhythms in your brain help you fall asleep and stay awake, thus causing major problems when they’re disturbed.
So what can be done about SWSD for those that must carry out shifts with difficult hours? Here are some suggestions on how to cope with the problem:
When trying to sleep:
Let there be darkness – The darker the room, the better your chances of sleeping. Getting an eye mask to block out light when trying to sleep during the day can be helpful to trick the brain into producing melatonin, which is normally produced at night. It can also be helpful because curtains in a room with a lot of windows may not always block out sufficient light, so installing darker curtains may also be something to consider. Some electronic clocks and phone lights can actually be excessively bright, so try dimming them or have them face another direction away from you when you’re resting.
Sleep aids – Taking sleep aids early enough for them to wear off before it’s time for your next shift may be prescribed by your healthcare professional. There are over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements such as melatonin, as well as prescription medications your doctor may prescribe to you. According to WebMD, “melatonin is a hormone that helps control sleeping and waking cycles. It also plays a role in keeping you healthy by making your immune system strong and preventing the growth of tumors.” Also, hot and relaxing teas such as chamomile or warm milk can also relax you enough to sleep. Another remedy would be to have a warm bath before bedtime.
Sleep right after you get home – Some experts recommend going to sleep as soon as you return home from your shift, as opposed to waiting hours after you get back. If it’s difficult to wind down upon returning home, try turning on the radio or television to something peaceful to get you into a sleeping state of mind. If possible, also avoid nicotine and other stimulants right before bed.
Set a cosy temperature – Do you find it hard to sleep in a room that’s too hot or too cold? Many people can find this to be a challenge. Try setting the temperature for sleep time to a comfortable temperature. If it’s not possible because of roommates or reasons such as communal living, try piling on comfy comforters and blankets when it’s chilly, or sleeping naked if you get hot at night.
Keep things quiet – Loud sounds can further sabotage you chances of getting a peaceful snooze, especially if you live with other people who are up and about during the day. Invest in a machine or a fan that can produce white noise to tune out loud, abrupt sounds. This distracting white noise helps rock the adult to sleep. I had one of these in college and it saved me many nights when I lived in the college house across from the university library. There were a lot of us living there, and things could get loud. It truly helped tune out the noise.
When trying to stay awake:
Keep it colder – If it’s possible, try to keep the work area cold, so that you can better stay awake during those difficult hours of the day or night when your body wants to shut down and go to sleep.
Drink caffeine – This may also be a possible solution if it’s taken early enough for it wear off before you go to bed. Energy vitamins can also be a blessing during those difficult shifts, though do make sure you consult with your doctor. Cold caffeine beverages may be a better alternative, as warm beverages could actually make you drowsier.
Shift work sleep disorder can cause significant problems which are not limited to but may include on-the-job accidents, mood problems and increased sick leave. According to a WebMD report, “it can also lead to trouble concentrating at work and poor job performance.” Also, people who suffer from SWSD are more likely to develop other health problems like flu and colds, due to the impact of the disorder on their immune systems.