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Shift work disorder 101: What is it and when to seek help

Published on:31 July 2021, 11:00am IST
A very drastic change can cause shift work disorder, leading to a disruption in your sleep and wake cycle. Here's when you should seek help for it.
Grace Bains
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shift work disorder
Shift work disorder can impact both physical and mental health. Image courtesy: Unsplash
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Many of you must be engaged in vocations and jobs that require you to work in shifts. Shifts can either be in the early morning, night or on a rotation basis. These working hours can affect the sleep cycle and quality.

The adverse effect on one’s sleep due to erratic shift timings is called ‘shift work disorder’. This disorder may cause insomnia, sleep loss, and discomfort amongst people who try to sleep after their shift timings are over.

What is shift work disorder?

This disorder is essentially linked to the jolting of the circadian rhythm. The main cause is the misalignment between the body and the circadian rhythms, which regulates the sleep and wake cycle.

shift work disorder
Shift work disorder can wreck your sleep and wake cycle. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Circadian rhythms are based on natural light and darkness. When there is sunlight, the retina in your eyes absorbs the sunlight and signals the brain to release hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol provides a feeling of being alert and energized. During the nighttime, the brain produces melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness relaxation and helps to sleep.

The overlapping of the work schedule with the sleep cycle leads to misalignment of the circadian rhythm. The symptoms of this disorder include insomnia, excessive sleepiness during waking hours, and sleep loss.

Other prominent symptoms include difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, depression, and anxiety.

Here’s how shift work disorder can impact your life and health

This condition is serious, impacts your health, and can also be fatal in certain cases:

Stress and anxiety: People suffering from this disorder can start to feel stressed, anxious, impatient, and irritable. Lack of good quality sleep can overtime make people frustrated, which in turn can cause conflicts at work and at home. These factors also put people suffering from this disorder at high risk of being depressed.

shift work disorder
Shift work disorder can increase your stress level considerably. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Diminished focus: People with this disorder find it difficult to focus and concentrate on the tasks at hand. They also struggle to pay attention to details and remember important things. This can lead to poor performance at work as well, besides the health implications on one’s mental and cognitive wellbeing.

Risk of accidents: Considering the reduced alertness, drowsiness, and less than ideal reaction time, there is a high chance of shift work disorder patients getting into accidents. People suffering from this disorder are unfortunately at a high risk of getting involved in motor accidents or mishaps while handling heavy dangerous machinery.

Compromised overall health status: Sleep is important for maintaining gastrointestinal, metabolic, reproductive, and cardiovascular health. People suffering from this disorder could find themselves struggling with blood pressure issues, digestion problems, and low testosterone levels.

So, ladies, in case you work in shifts, then be mindful of these symptoms. Practice sleep hygiene and speak to medical professionals to lead a healthier life!

Grace Bains Grace Bains

Grace is someone who likes writing enough to make a living out of it. When she isn’t writing, you will find her having chai and reading a book.