Sleep and the night shift

Working non-traditional hours is more common than you might think. In industrialized nations up to 20% of workers work either night or rotating shifts. Not everyone who works night shift has sleeping problems but most do.

The circadian rhythm is so ingrained in us that working nights is going against the body’s natural desire to be asleep at nighttime and awake during the day.

People with shift work have higher rates of absenteeism and accidents related to sleepiness and fatigue. Memory and ability to focus are impaired, fatigued people are often irritable or depressed.

Night shift workers seem to have a higher risk of ulcers, diabetes and heart disease. The older you are the more likely the negative affects of shift work will have on your health and well being.

Workers with symptoms listed below should talk with their primary care provider and consider a sleep evaluation with a board certified sleep medicine specialist.

  • Excessive sleepiness during work and
  • Insomnia during daytime sleep attempts
  • Headaches
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating

Treatment

  • The most important steps are practicing good sleep hygiene (see sleep hygiene).
  • Use black out curtains in bedroom
  • Keep regular sleep/wake schedule, even on days off
  • Limit exposure to sunlight while driving home, wear dark sunglasses even in winter.
  • Inform family and friends of “sleep time”, turn off phone, put sign on door, “do not disturb”
  • Limit caffeine 3 hours before bedtime
  • Consider light therapy during shift.

Sleep Center

503-561-5170