Sleep and Shift Work

Who suffers from Shift Lag?

Studies of night shift workers shows that almost everyone who works through the night suffers from Shift Lag. Some are more able than others to adjust to the differences while others find it very difficult to cope with the extra stress working at night creates. While the stress of night work is hard its the extra problem of lack of quality sleep after the night shift that makes the problem far worse.
Anecdotal evidence indicates Shift Lag also makes shift workers more susceptible to colds, flu and stomach upsets.

What causes Shift Lag?

It hardly seems possible that so many problems could result from merely working at night, but as the comments from night shift workers shows, it affects even those who have been working night shifts for years. There is mounting evidence that the problems from working night shift get worse not better the longer time night shifts are worked. Problems tend to get worse after working nights shifts for longer than five years.

The cause of Shift Lag is being active and working at 3:00am in the morning. This disrupts our body clock (circadian rhythm). This in turn affects body temperature, heartbeat, blood pressure and physiological patterns, leading to disorientation and mental and physical fatigue. In addition, the strange working hours and usual drop in temperature at night can see night shift workers not drinking enough fluids and can cause mild body dehydration. The effects of Shift Lag may be made worse by not eating enough during the shift, excessive coffee drinking, by loss of sleep, and also by being tired or not in good condition before the night shift, although these are not specifically causes of Shift Lag.

How do I improve the sleep I do get?

Although this is obvious some shift workers don’t understand that there are simple things that can be done to encourage quality sleep.

  • Maybe sound proofing the bedroom.
  • Darkness, using special light proof curtains.
  • Temperature control, neither too hot or too cold.
  • Humidity control, so that it is comfortable for sleeping.
  • A comfortable bed, suitable for the shift worker
  • Sleeping aids like blindfolds and ear plugs.
  • Going to bed with an empty bladder, visit the washroom before bed.

What treatment is available?

Bright Light Therapy
Bright light boxes which deliver strong light are used by some to reset their time clock and once we now more about light therapy it may be used in night work situations. Some shift workers find when they are finishing a series of night shifts and are about to go back to days, spending as much time outside in bright sunshine helps. They find combining being outside with exercise most effective.

Sleeping Pills
Some shift workers use sleeping pills to try to alleviate shift lag. They do have a down side. The shift worker can become addicted to them. Its true they increase the amount of sleep but they don’t fix the problem of shift lag or increase the alertness of workers during the next shift. In fact some have a “hung over” effect making the shift worker drowsy during the next shift.

Persons suspecting that they may suffer from Shift Lag should consult a qualified healthcare provider.

Literature concerning Shift Lag that is distributed by MRC Healthcare, Inc., including this brochure, is offered for information purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a healthcare provider.