Michigan Lung and Critical Care MLCC sleep lab Grand Blanc Sleep Apnea Gregory Streff Mark Rittenger Pradeep Ramachandran

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

According to the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, a shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Circadian rhythm refers to the 24-hour rhythmic sleep wake cycle controlled by the sleep center in the brain. It is considered a disorder because of the frequency with which people suffer from sleep disturbance and excessive sleepiness in trying to adapt to shift work schedules.

Causes, incidence & risk factors
Shift workers are at increased risk for a variety of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular (heart) disease and gastrointestinal problems. Shift workers are also at an increased risk for obstructive sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder found in approximately 5% of the general population, but it is 11.6% in the shift work population.

Swift workers are more likely to be sleepy at work, and sleepiness/fatigue in the work place can lead to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, errors, injuries, and fatalities.

The main complaint for people with SWSD is excessive sleepiness. Other symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Disrupted sleep schedules
  • Reduced performance
  • Difficulties with personal relationships
  • Irritability/depressed mood
  • Decreased memory and concentration

There are tests available for diagnosing shift work sleep disorder. The diagnosis is made based upon symptoms reported by the patient and by ruling out other causes of excessive sleepiness such as thyroid disorders or sleep apnea.

Unfortunately, treatment for SWSD is limited. Both behavioral and pharmacological (medication) remedies can alleviate symptoms. Some research indicates that the body may never fully adapt to swift work, especially for those who switch to a normal weekend sleep schedule. Getting adequate amounts of sleep while doing shift work is also important.



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