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10 Tips for Managing Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift work sleep disorder is an unfortunate side effect for many individuals in the nursing field due to the inevitable grave yard shifts and long hours. While you can’t always prevent this disorder, there are ways to manage it.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift work sleep disorder, also called SWSD, is a sleep disorder associated with those who have professions where they work rotating shifts, frequently going from nights to days. Many individuals in the medical profession, especially nurses, are at risk for getting SWSD. With this shift work sleep disorder, it can be emotionally and physically exhausting, as well as being a health concern. These work shifts affect your body’s natural Circadian rhythm which can cause interrupted sleep and excessive fatigue. Symptoms of SWSD include headaches, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.

Here are 10 effective tips that can help manage this troublesome disorder:

1. Work Less Shifts in a Row

If you are scheduled for the overnight shift as part of your rotating shift schedule, try to work less night shifts in a row. The more you are working these shifts in a row, the more sleep deprived you’re going to be. Try to limit yourself to no more than 3-5 night shifts in a row without time off in between. After night shifts, it is recommended you have at least 48 hours off so that your body can recuperate.

2. Avoid Excessive Overtime

While you may want to put in extra hours at work as on-the-job training, you should avoid working an extensive amount of overtime. The extra work hours are going to interrupt the amount of sleep that your body needs.

3. Avoid Long Commutes

The key to managing shift work sleep disorder is getting as much needed sleep as possible. When you spend an hour or longer commuting each morning after your shift ends, you’re losing that much more sleep. Avoiding long commutes can give you that extra time asleep to help your body feel rested and alert.

4. Managing Rotating Shifts

Learning to manage rotating shifts can be crucial for nursing students going from an rn to bsn. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can greatly benefit overall physical and mental stamina. During frequent rotating shifts, it is important to rest and take short naps when possible to recharge your body’s energy.

5. Make Sleep a Priority

When you have a day off, getting sleep should be your priority. Prepare for your days off by limiting the amount of caffeine you consume and don’t deprive yourself of much-needed rest. Sleeping between shifts is going to be difficult, so catching up on rest when you have a day or two off from work can be greatly beneficial.

6. Improve Your Sleep Environment

If your body is used to sleeping at night rather than in the day, it can be much harder to get sleep during the afternoon hours. To improve your sleep environment, you should make it as dark and quiet as possible. Install blackout curtains to block out the sunlight, wear a sleeping mask on bright days, and turn up your air conditioning for optimum comfort. You should also turn off distractions such as your cell phone, answering machine and television.

7. Brighten Up Your Workspace

When you’re at work, it helps to stay alert if you can improve the light and brightness of your workspace. During the night shift at a hospital, you will be exposed to the bright lights of emergency and patient rooms. However, some offices in medical facilities can be dark; if you can control the brightness, it is best to lighten up the place for improved alertness.

8. Limit Caffeine During Work Hours

Limiting the amount of caffeine you drink during work can also be very helpful. While you might want a cup of coffee during the beginning of the shift, you should stop drinking caffeine at least halfway through the shift to avoid being too alert for sleep when your shift is over.

9. Ask For Privacy

If noise and distractions are an issue, kindly ask your friends and family not to call during the day when it’s time for you to sleep. It can be hard sleeping during the day due to everyone else being awake, so you might need to remind them.

10. Stick to the Routine

Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps promote good sleeping habits. Be as consistent as possible, even on weekends and days off. Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is vital.

Shift work sleep disorder is a challenge for today's many hard-working adults. Taking strides to maintain a consistent sleep schedule is the most effective way to combat the disorder, and ensure a long, healthy and alert lifestyle.