Shift Work Syndrome

As the global marketplace makes time efficiency and high productivity its two ultimate goals, employees are being required to work unconventional shifts.

Millions of Americans, from doctors and nurses to truckers and firefighters, are shift workers.  Working night hours leaves many shift workers chronically fatigued, harms performance and increases the risk of injury.

Termed shift work, also called "shift lag," range in hours from 11p.m. to 7 a.m. or alternating between three shifts.  If the change is permanent, once the body adapts to the new sleeping schedule, a person can function properly.

The first shift usually runs from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., the evening or second shift generally lasts from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and the night shift is usually from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Circadian rhythm is a daily rhythmic activity cycle based on 24-hour intervals.  The body simply cannot rest and rebuild when the circadian rhythms are disrupted. This is why the body must get used to the change permanently.  If an employee works an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, then has two days off and returns to their normal routine with friends and families, when they return to the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, their circadian rhythm is thrown off.


Shift workers are likely to suffer from sleep disturbances during the day.  These disturbances affect their quality of sleep, which in turn can affect their relationships, alertness and performance.  They are also at higher risk of developing sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease and gastrointestinal disorders.

Here are a few tips for surviving shift work:

  • Avoiding long journeys after your shifts, to prevent traffic accidents.
  • Take short naps during shifts.  A quick 15 minute rejuvenation can do your body wonders.
  • Work with others whenever possible.  This will heighten your alertness.
  • Drink coffee and caffeinated drinks.
  • Stick to the same sleeping schedule even on weekends.  This will keep your circadian rhythm in sync.
  • Blinds, curtains, and sleep masks help turn day into night.  This will "trick"our body into thinking it is 10 p.m. when it is actually 8 a.m.

As a shift worker, it is important to understand your body's sleep cycle and circadian rhythm.

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