(Updated at Sep 22 / 2023)
What is shift work sleep disorder and how to cope with it?
Working at night is not natural for humans, which is why when you do, you can develop a condition that only recently had become acknowledged as a real problem – shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).
The main symptom of the SWSD is sleepiness and inability to focus and implement tasks when working night shifts. While it seems like a natural thing as we are not meant to work at nights, it is not quite so. People can work at night and be alert and productive if they can have good-quality sleep during the day. But in the frequent night shifts or changing night and day shifts, the risk of SWSD increases significantly. People who develop it become sleepy during their shifts and their sleep quality also significantly deteriorates. Naturally, it affects productivity and quality of life in general. So how can you cope with it?
Get diagnosed for shift work sleep disorder
To get the treatment that you may need you have to get diagnosed first because the drugs you’ll need are sold with prescriptions only in the U.S.
You can get diagnosed going to your physician and telling them about the symptoms that you have or go to a psychotherapist who can figure out whether you suffer from SWSD only or have developed any additional symptoms. But the major specialist who works with the condition is a somnologist.
A somnologist is a sleep specialist who is able to understand the deeper mechanisms of your insomnia and sleepiness occurrence. For instance, poor sleep and eventual excessive sleepiness can be associated with obstructive sleep apnea or short respiratory arrests during the sleep or restless leg syndrome, and others. The conditions that can result in insomnia and excessive sleepiness can be diagnosed by a somnologist who is able to appoint and correctly interpret sleep tests such as multiple sleep latency test and polysomnogram. Besides, to confirm your diagnosis a somnologist can offer you to wear an actigraph, a sensor that helps to track sleep and wakefulness patterns and their misalignment with the regular circadian rhythms, and other parameters.
You should go and get diagnosed for shift work sleep disorder if you have frequent night shifts and the following symptoms:
- Trouble falling asleep or several awakenings;
- Inability to sleep for more than 6 hours;
- Sleepiness during working hours;
- Inability to focus during working hours;
- Even after sleeping for 6-7 hours you feel sleepy;
- Chronic fatigue;
- Mood swings, irritability, anxiety.
- You feel that your sleep disorder affects your professional and social life. If these symptoms are persistent for more than three months, you should definitely get diagnosed.
How is shift work sleep disorder treated?
Unfortunately, you cannot cure the disorder without stopping working at night. As it is unrealistic for many professions such as medical workers, police, military, and others, there are some tips how to cope with the disease and improve your sleep and waking hours:
- Ensure you have blackout curtains to sleep well during the day and do not be exposed to sunlight as it prevents melatonin production. When you sleep in a room with natural light, your sleep is naturally less deep and does not provide enough rest.
- Ask your family to keep quiet when you are sleeping during the day. You may do not have any sleep disorder but have shallow sleep and get awaken several times what makes your sleep poor if there are any noises in your house.
- Wear sunglasses on your commute after a night shift to minimize exposure to sunlight and allow your body to produce melatonin for better sleep.
- Do not drink coffee or other energizing drinks late in the night shift. Consider it as a late-night on a regular day when you wouldn’t drink coffee 5 hours prior to going to bed.
- Try going to sleep and waking up at the regular time when you are not working night shifts.
- Eat light meals before going to bed. Eating heavy meals interferes with normal sleep so it is better to get a fuller meal after you wake up then when you come home from a night shift and want to go to sleep.
If these tips on getting better sleep do not help you stay fully awake and productive during your working hours, you can ask your doctor to prescribe you sleeping pills and wakefulness-promoting drugs.
The wakefulness-promoting medicines used in today’s medical practice are mainly divided into two groups: amphetamines and modern wakefulness-promoting drugs based on Modafinil. Both of these groups have the same effect on wakefulness but amphetamines such as Adderall are a bit cheaper. But the other differences such as number and likelihood of adverse effects, number of pills a day, and so on make Modafinil-based drugs such as Waklert more preferable. Waklert is a newer version of Modafinil with an unpatented name Armodafinil. This medication is designed to manage unbearable sleepiness in narcolepsy and is also approved for shift work sleep disorder and obstructive sleep apnea but is also widely used off-label as previously Adderall for cognitive function enhancement and coping with sleepiness caused by insufficient night seep. In the table below find the key differences between Waklert and Adderall.
- Allergy to the drug;
-Severe heart disease;
- Decompensated liver cirrhosis;
- Allergy to Adderall,
- Pregnancy and lactation,
- History of substance abuse,
- Heart disease,
- Thyroid gland dysfunction,
- Therapy with MAO inhibitors,
- Bipolar disorder,
- Liver or kidney disease,
- Psychotic disorders,
- Raynaud’s syndrome,
- Tourette syndrome.
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