What Is Shift Work Disorder?

We depend on our jobs, which is why anything that hinders our ability to work can be so devastating. If you are a shift worker, you undoubtedly experience stress at work. However, those who work in shifts can develop shift work disorder. This is a serious condition that can significantly affect a person’s health.

It is important for those who work in shifts, as well as employers, to understand shift work so they can take steps to combat the problem.

What causes shift work disorder?

If your job requires you to work in shifts, particularly if you regularly change from daytime to nighttime shifts, you may be vulnerable to shift work disorder. Over longer periods of time, this disorder can affect a worker’s overall health as well as their safety in the workplace.

Constant changes are a hallmark of shift work disorder. Our bodies can adjust to working the night shift if the work is constant. However, changing between day and night shifts can trigger chronic sleep deprivation in workers. Even without constant night and day shift changes, long-term shift work presents problems of its own.

What are the symptoms of shift work disorder?

There are various symptoms associated with shift work disorder. This include:

  • Excessive sleepiness when you need to be awake and alert at work and while driving
  • Insomnia, which can lead to trouble falling asleep and waking up before you have had enough sleep
  • Getting enough sleep but still not feeling refreshed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of energy
  • Irritability, mood swings, or depression
  • Difficulty with personal relationships

This is more than just having trouble sleeping or not getting enough sleep, something that happens to most workers from time to time. This is a long-term problem. Shift work disorder can have major health implications. This includes:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Mental health disorders
  • Development of certain cancers
  • Metabolic issues
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Ulcers
  • Obesity
  • Changes in appetite

Excessive sleepiness and microsleeps at work

Those suffering from shift work disorder could be in danger in the workplace (or while doing other activities). Workers may find that they are fighting sleep when they need to be alert. They may experience the sensation that they are going to “nod off” constantly.

A “microsleep” is the brief occurrence of falling asleep. This is involuntary and usually only lasts a few seconds. However, a few seconds is long enough to cause significant harm at a high-risk job. If a construction worker or a commercial truck driver experiences a microsleep, they are putting their lives and the lives of those around them in danger.

How common are workplace injuries?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported in the latest year of available data. Many of these injuries happened to shift workers who may have been experiencing shift work disorder.

Preventing shift work disorder

Studies show that around 15% of the workforce in the US works outside of the traditional 9 to 5 workday. Some of the best ways to prevent shift work disorder include:

  • Taking naps. A nap before a shift can boost energy and not disrupt sleep later on. Many companies allow workers to nap during the workday.
  • Eating smart. It is vital that shift workers eat a balanced and healthy diet.
  • Talk to your doctor. Let your physician know about your shift work and trouble sleeping. There are many remedies they may suggest that may or may not include medication.