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Shift Workers

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) affects people who frequently rotate shifts or work at night - in essence, causing a constant or recurrent pattern of sleep interuption that results in insomnia or excessive sleepiness during the waking hours. The disorder is seen in people who work non-traditional hours, usually between 10pm and 6am.

The effects of lifestyle on sleep tend to be most evident for shift workers, as their career requires a change in sleep habits weekly - or even daily. Approximately 20% of shift workers report falling asleep during work, increasing the risk of accidents and decreasing productivity - the exact opposite of the goal shift work is meant to create.

Types of Shift Work Disorders
Shift work includes two types. The first type is when an employee works an unconvential nonfluctuating shift. Generally, when the shift time change is permanent, it is possible that the worker can adjust, although it can be difficult. This person may have to get used to sleeping during daylight and their circadian rhythm can adjust to the new sleep-wake cycle. Even when a shift worker's change is permanent, the person may spend five straight nights working and then two days staying awake with friends or family - and then trying to adjust again to their nighttime schedule.

The second type is when the person alternates between shifts. This also affects the person's circadian rhythm, but doesn't allow the body to adjust because of the constant change.

Both types can have similar effects.

Causes & Symptoms

Shift work is difficult for obvious reasons, as explained abov e, but in addition to the physical effects of shift work, there are also other things that can e shift work, such as age, psychiatric disorders, and family demands.

Age, specifically, has a detrimental effect on the person's ability to cope with shift work. Even a person who has worked shifts for years may have difficulty as they grow older. Other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, may surface as the person ages, causing additional complications.


The following are common symptoms when shift worker disorder is present:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Lack of energy
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Throat muscles or tongue relaxes more than normal during sleep
  • Increased accidents & work-related errors
  • Sick leave needed
  • Irritability and mood problems

When to See the Sleep Center

If you suspect you or someone you know may be suffering from shift work sleep disorder, it is imperative to see a doctor right away.


Shift work sleep disorder may be treated through a blue light therapy, a solution that can take as little as 15 minutes a day to re-adjust a person's circadian rhythm. The light therapy provides a mechanism for you to have improved mood and energy - as well as to sleep better. Blue light therapy may not be the correct treatment for you, as other sleep disorders should be ruled out.

Contact the Sleep Center of the Rockies® to find out more about the diagnosis and treatment of shift work sleep disorder. There is no reason that you cannot get on a path to good health through better sleep!