Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Updated May 11, 2022

doctor resting on the floor

What is Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that affects shift workers who work non-traditional hours according to Cleveland Clinic. A traditional workday is 9 a.m to 5 p.m. According to The Balance Careers, the top three jobs that involve night shift work are emergency room doctor, air traffic controller, and physician assistant.

Work schedules that have overnight or early morning shifts go against the average person’s internal body clock or circadian rhythms. This can easily result in difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep which will lead to excessive sleepiness or other impairment. This page will discuss more symptoms of SWSD, the danger of the disorder, and how to manage its effects.

Consequences of SWSD

There are several different consequences that occur when workers experience SWSD.


A lack of energy can play a factor in workplace accidents. Highly fatigued workers were 70% more likely to be involved in accidents than workers who had better sleep. Feeling fatigued impairs selective attention in terms of concentration performance and the number of errors. When people are tired, they simply cannot think straight, which can cause someone to make a bad decision that results in injury.

Mood Problems

People who suffer from poor sleep will see an increase in negative moods. Sleeplessness is a common symptom of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Negative moods will make it difficult to fall asleep which means your sleep quality could slowly start to spiral downward.


When you are working outside of regular work hours, it can cause problems with your social life. For some, it can be hard to find time to socialize with people outside of work or attend certain events. This can make someone feel lonely and can eventually lead to depression.

Health Problem

People suffering from SWSD have a higher risk of having cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and heart attack. It can also cause gastrointestinal problems like heartburn. There are several other consequences of sleep loss.

Alcohol Dependence

Some people may turn to alcohol to help them fall asleep. The use of alcohol will reduce rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This will only worsen sleep and daytime sleepiness. There are better options for what to drink before bed.

Dealing With SWSD

man relaxing on bed

To help fight sleep deprivation, make sleep your number one priority. Make sure you maintain a proper sleep schedule, even on days off because it is essential for your quality of sleep. Make sure you have a dark and quiet sleep environment. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least hours of sleep per day.

If you are a night shift worker and live with other people, ask them to minimize sleep disturbances so you can sleep. Minimize exposure to bright light from the Sun on the way home from a night shift to keep the light exposure from activating the internal clock as advised by Cleveland Clinic.

To keep an eye on the problem, keep a sleep diary to monitor any sleep problems over time. If possible try to limit the number of night shifts in a row and avoid pushing yourself to work extra hours. Stay on a consistent shift work schedule to get enough sleep if your employer allows and avoid rotating shifts.

Prioritize catching up on extra hours of sleep on days off. Taking naps is a great way to give yourself extra sleep. If all else fails, see a sleep doctor for help with more sleeping tips or sleep aids like melatonin. You should always see your healthcare provider when any sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea affects your sleep too much.

What Employers Can Do

If you are an employer, you should consider the effect that a poor work schedule can have on your employee. Keeping your employees on a consistent work schedule will be the best way for them to maintain quality sleep. If a rotating work schedule is unavoidable, make sure it is not too random and gradually shifts so your employees can adjust. UCLA Health recommends that you make sure the schedule rotates clockwise so it follows this pattern: day shift, evening shift, night shift, morning shift, and then day shift instead of counter-clockwise which follows this pattern: day shift, morning shift, night shift, evening shift, then day shift.


More than 22 million Americans work non-traditional shifts that can eventually lead to sleep problems. Shift work sleep disorder can lead to accidents in the workplace as well as a variety of health problems. Make sure that you are taking the proper steps to look out for your personal well-being. If you are an employer, consider the health of your employees, they are not robots.

About the Author Steven Bieber

Steven Bieber HeadshotSteven is a content writer who recently broke into the mattress industry. In his free time, he enjoys watching football and listening to music.

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