What are ways to cope with shift work disorder?

  1. Maintain a sleep-conducive bedroom environment
  2. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule
  3. Practice good sleep hygiene
  4. Monitor workplace alertness
  5. Seek professional help if needed

If you — like millions of employees worldwide — have a job that requires clocking in outside the hours of 7 am to 6 pm or you have constantly rotating shifts, you are more susceptible to developing shift work disorder. Let’s delve deeper into what this condition is and what are the ways to cope with shift work disorder.

Our bodies need to maintain a regular sleep schedule to stay healthy. However, not everyone gets to achieve this because of non-traditional work shifts. These shifts happen outside common job hours, often requiring employees to work at night and sleep during the day.

Unfortunately, those who have this work schedule are at a higher risk for developing shift work disorder, which is a type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder that results in the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Cognitive impairments
  • Mood problems
  • Physical complications (i.e., cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic diseases)
  • And increased risk for drowsy-driving crashes

Having a shift work disorder may have severe implications on overall life quality. Despite its seriousness, most people are not aware of the ways to address it. Read on to learn more.

Maintain A Sleep-Conducive Bedroom Environment

Maintain A Sleep-Conducive Bedroom Environment

If you suffer from shift work disorder, you must prioritize getting quality sleep. People who work during non-traditional work hours will need to get quality sleep even though there is daylight outside because it directly impacts mental and physical health.

If you always struggle to get quality sleep, it might be time to check if your bedroom is sleep-conducive. Your bedroom should be a comfortable place for resting and sleeping, no matter what time you go to bed. A sleep-conducive bedroom environment should be dark, quiet, and cool. Although this fact might seem obvious, many people over overlook how effective it is when it comes to coping with shift work disorder.

Too much light exposure in the bedroom can prevent getting quality sleep because the circadian rhythm is heavily influenced by light and darkness. When a bedroom is dark, a hormone known as melatonin also induces feelings of relaxation and sleepiness.

Loud noise disturbances can cause sleep fragmentation. You should strive to keep your bedroom quiet, even if you have to block outside noises by using a white noise machine, wearing earplugs, or telling your roommates to be quiet.

The best bedroom temperature conducive to sleep is from 15.5°C to 18.3°C. Studies suggest increased bedroom temperature can increase wakefulness.

Try To Maintain A Regular Sleep Schedule

Creating a sleep-conducive room is just half the fight when it comes to coping with shift work disorder. Regardless if you work outside traditional working hours, it is essential to maintain a regular sleep schedule, with about 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily.

Suppose you work at 10 pm and you normally go to sleep at 7 am, then you should try to maintain this schedule, even during your off-days.

Religiously sticking to a defined sleeping pattern can be challenging, especially if you suddenly have rotating shifts. In this case, try making gradual adjustments. Let’s say you currently work an afternoon shift and soon you are transitioning to a night shift. On the last days of the afternoon shift, you should delay your sleep-wake time by one to two hours every day to help your body adjust to the schedule better.

If possible, ask your employer to limit the number of your night shifts to five days or less and give you a heads up before rotating shifts happen. Always make sure to ask your roommates or housemates to help you fall asleep at the designated time. Aside from being quiet, they should only wake you up for emergencies.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Practicing sleep hygiene is the key to achieving good quality sleep, which is also a key to coping with shift work disorder. This is also primarily why sleep hygiene tips have been developed to reduce insomnia symptoms. Sleep hygiene refers to daily routines and activities that impact duration and sleep quality.

Good sleep hygiene encompasses not only creating a sleep-inducing bedroom environment and committing to a regular sleep schedule but also doing pre-bedtime routines that allow for uninterrupted sleep throughout the night. This can include avoiding naps during the daytime, putting away blue light-emitting devices, limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption, and exercising during the daytime.

Monitor Workplace Alertness

Those who work during non-traditional work hours are more prone to commit errors while on the job and worse, are more prone to accidents. Always monitor your workplace alertness.

Caffeine is a type of stimulant that increases brain activity and circulation of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. You can try to drink caffeine moderately to help go temporarily boost your energy and alertness. Just remember to consume caffeine 4 hours before your desired bedtime for best results.

Taking a nap during work breaks is also a good idea. Around 15 to 20 minutes during lunchtime, for example, can be enough to help you stay alert during the rest of your shift. If you feel fatigued or drowsy, you can try to have a brief nap before going home. This is a way for you to avoid sleepiness during driving, which can lead to minor or potentially fatal collisions.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

Seek Professional Help If Needed

Natural remedies at home can be used to cope with shift work disorders. However, if the symptoms of the disorder are not manageable anymore, it would be best to seek professional help.

A physician will check your medical history and ask about your sleeping schedule extensively to prescribe the right treatment. Depending on your needs, you may be prescribed sleeping aids (i.e., melatonin, benzodiazepine receptor agonists) or cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Key Takeaway

A shift work disorder can have severe implications on the overall quality of life. Unfortunately, the lack of scientific knowledge about this condition can make coping difficult.

Fortunately, there are some ways to cope with shift work disorder that you can adapt to, and slowly build good sleep habits from.