Counting sheep. Catching some Zzz’s. Hitting the hay.
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No matter what you call it, it’s a well-known fact that getting a good night’s sleep is an important part of your overall well-being. But if you’re part of the 20% of people who work a non-traditional shift like night shifts or rotating shifts, you may be missing out on more than just the sunlight and tucking your kids in for the night. You could be missing out on better health.
“Working nontraditional shifts interferes with the body’s circadian rhythms,” says sleep expert Jessica Vensel Rundo, MD, MS. “Most of us are awake during the day because our body’s internal clock is keeping us awake. So no matter how tired you are after working all night, your awakening signals will conflict with your desire to sleep.”
Fortunately, there are some lifestyle changes that can help. Dr. Vensel Rundo explains the problems this disorder can cause and what you can do to help.
Lack of sleep can lead to other health issues like heart disease or gastrointestinal distress or metabolic disorders, such as diabetes. Besides health problems, you may also have symptoms like mood problems, irritability, drug and alcohol dependency or even accidents and work-related mistakes.
“There was also a large study done on nurses who worked the night shift in which they were found to have a higher prevalence of breast cancer,” says Dr. Vensel Rundo.
From a non-health perspective, working alternate shifts can make it difficult to lead a balanced life. If you’re a spouse or a parent, there are things going on during the time you need to be sleeping.
Not all shift workers will develop shift work sleep disorder.
If you’re having trouble sleeping and you think this disorder could be the culprit, expect your doctor to first run some tests to rule out other underlying sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.
“It’s also a good idea to keep a sleep diary of which shifts you worked and what hours you slept,” says Dr. Vensel Rundo. “Keeping a sleep diary can help your doctor identify the problem and monitor its progression over time.”
Dr. Vensel Rundo suggests five lifestyle changes habits to implement to make a lasting impact on your sleep and most importantly, your health: