by Gregg Cognac
Physician Assistant/Director of Clinical Affairs, Medcor
The human body is biologically programmed to sleep during the night and be awake and active during the day. This biological program is a 24-hour internal clock referred to as the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm disturbances that consistently or recurrently interrupt sleep can affect people who work non-traditional hours such as rotating, evening, or night shifts. These disturbances cause problems with normal psychological and physiological body processes and can lead to a condition called shift work disorder (SWD) or shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).
Symptoms and Impact
People with SWSD commonly have symptoms of excessive sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and lack of energy. SWSD can have a devastating impact on personal well being, family life and work, increasing the risk for injuries, accidents, work errors, reduced performance, irritability, depression, and even substance abuse. This disorder can also lead to serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease, digestive disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The best strategy to alleviate symptoms is for shift workers to make sleep a priority and commit to behavioral or lifestyle modification changes. Some examples include exercising before your shift, not before bed, minimizing exposure to light after a night shift, keeping a regular sleep schedule (even on weekends), limiting excess caffeine or alcohol, and avoiding nicotine.
Addressing the Issues
People who find symptoms of SWSD interfering with their work or personal life should see their primary doctor or a sleep medicine specialist. The doctor will evaluate work hours, sleep activity, feelings upon waking, fatigue or sleeping at work, etc. It will be helpful to keep a two week record (sleep diary) of these factors in advance. Also, the doctor may need to order sleep studies to find out what is causing sleep problems. Sleep studies are tests that record what happens to your body during sleep. The doctor will use this information to develop a treatment plan to help you.
Knowing what you can and can’t change in life, being willing to change the things that you can control, and accepting those things you can’t, can have a significant positive impact on your overall health.
Author Gregg Cognac, PA-C, Clinical Affairs Director, Medcor is a certified Physician Assistant, and works with Medcor’s medical directors to provide oversight and support for on-site clinic staff in more than 170 locations nationwide. Gregg earned his degree in PA studies from Midwest University in 1999, then completed post-graduate training in Emergency Medicine culminating in a Master’s degree. Gregg’s clinical experienced has been in Emergency Medicine, Occupational Medicine and Cardiology. Gregg contributes to policy and service development, QA, training, and other clinical support for clinic staff operating in a wide range of industries. http://medcor.com. Contact: email@example.com