Do you know the signs of shift work disorder?

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Are you one of the 30 percent of nurses who work the night shift? If you are, are you frequently tired or do you often find yourself fighting off sleep? Do you have difficulty falling or staying asleep? Do these sleep problems disrupt your social, family or work life? Have these sleep difficulties been present for at least one month?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then read on, because you may have shift work disorder, a type of circadian-rhythm sleep disorder that can adversely impact not only your job performance, but also the quality and even duration of your life. The good news is that by following a few simple recommendations, you can improve your health and well being and get your life back on track again.

What is shift work disorder? The human body naturally follows a “circadian” or approximately 24-hour period of wakefulness and sleepiness, with the desire to sleep strongest between midnight and 6 a.m., and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Your circadian sleep-wake rhythm, which is linked to nature’s cycle of light and darkness, is regulated by an internal biologic clock located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus. Shift work disorder and its consequences occur when you try to stay awake when your internal biologic clock is telling you to sleep, or when you try to sleep when your internal clock wants you to be awake.

What are the major symptoms of shift work disorder?
It should come as no surprise that during the night shift, when your internal clock is saying you should be asleep, you would feel excessively tired, fatigued and less alert. It should be just as easy to understand why you would also have difficulty falling and staying asleep when your body’s sleep-wake rhythm demands you be awake. Thus, the major symptoms of shift work disorder are hypersomnia, or excessive sleepiness, and insomnia.

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