Home / Blog September 21, 2022

Shift Work Disorder: How to Survive Long Nights at Work

While we all have days where we'd rather be napping than working, individuals who work nighttime or rotating shifts may experience a more extreme form of sleepiness: shift work disorder. This sleep disorder results from a break in your natural circadian rhythm, and it can cause severe health issues. But don't stress – there are ways to adapt to an irregular sleeping schedule and alleviate some of the symptoms of shift work disorder.

shift work disorder

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Shift work disorder (SWD) happens when your body doesn't follow a natural sleep-wake rhythm.

Symptoms of SWD include excessive sleepiness coupled with insomnia.

You can take steps to "trick" your brain into adapting to a sleep-wake schedule that fits your work life. 

Did you know?
Your stomach also helps your body know what time it is, which means eating regular meals can help you adjust to late-night shifts.

This article is for all of our healthcare workers, caregivers, first responders, and other night-shift workers who do valuable work while the rest of us are snoozing. If you suffer from shift work disorder (SWD), then we’re here to help! Understanding more about SWD can also be helpful for anyone whose loved ones work the night shift or have an unpredictable work schedule. This lifestyle comes with challenges, but luckily, there are plenty of tips and tricks that can help you survive the challenges of a nighttime lifestyle.

Why Do We Suffer From Shift Work Disorder?

All of us follow a natural circadian rhythm that matches the changes of days and nights. Our bodies have adapted to these rhythms and work differently during different periods of the day.

What happens when your lifestyle doesn’t follow a normal daylight-to-sundown rhythm? This is when shift work disorder occurs. The required lifestyle of nighttime careers doesn’t align with our usual light-mediated sleep-wake pattern, and this mismatch is hard on our bodies and minds. People who suffer from SWD experience excessive sleepiness when awake while also experiencing sleep loss and insomnia during sleeping hours. It’s a losing combination for restorative rest.

Natural sleep solutions like weighted blankets can sometimes help. But professional advice is always a good idea when it comes to healthcare. If those weighted blanket insomnia benefits aren’t quite enough to stave off your symptoms, it may be time to talk with your doctor about shift work disorder.

shift work sleep disorder

Is SWD Harmful?

SWD is a medical condition that affects an individual’s mental and physical health. Individuals suffering from shift work disorder have a higher risk for work and traffic accidents, and they also have a higher chance of developing mental health issues.

What’s more, this disruption in your physical and mental health can be hard on your social life. When you have time to relax, you may feel too tired to spend time with others or to enjoy your favorite activities. Unfortunately, substance abuse can be a common occurrence for those suffering from SWD, in addition to increased alcohol intake. Scientists have also observed long-term effects such as a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases and cancers.

How Do You Prevent Long-Term Consequences?

A great place to start is to talk with your doctor for advice on maintaining your health while continuing your work. Shift work sleep disorder treatment may involve a combination of several strategies. One common recommendation involves using artificial light to change your rhythm: if you work at night, use bright lighting to mimic sunlight. As your shift comes to an end, you can start to reduce the amount of light to tell your body that it’s time to wind down.

what is shift sleep disorder

Remember to Practice Good Sleeping Habits!

When you're home from your shift and trying to catch those daytime zzz’s, grab the right tools to support great sleep. You can use a sleeping mask or a blackout curtain to shut out the daylight, letting your body know it’s time to sleep. Minimizing your screen time or using a blue light blocker before bed can help, too. The World Health Organization recommends 7-9 hours of sleep for adults, so it’s important to be intentional about creating a sleep schedule that allows for this much rest – even if you can’t always sleep the whole time.

There are plenty of other useful devices out there, like white noise machines that can help shut out any unpleasant noises from your sleep sanctuary. Our favorite sleep tool? You guessed it! A knitted weighted blanket can create the ultimate cozy and comforted space.

Cotton Napper

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One of our favorite weighted blanket benefits is that using one can help alleviate insomnia and reduce stress levels. The blanket’s cozy weight tells your brain that it's okay to relax and rest. If you’re interested in trying a weighted blanket, our Tree Napper might be a helpful option. It’s designed to allow plenty of airflow, which can help you sleep less hot (even in the middle of the day)

What else can you do to help your body stay healthy and fight the effects of shift work disorder? Exercise when you can and remember that a nap can be your best friend! It always helps to follow a sleep routine and be patient with yourself as you figure out what works best.