Shift Work Can Put a Crimp on Sleep

TUESDAY March 9, 2010 -- To make ends meet these days, many Americans are sacrificing sleep to work night shifts or juggle two jobs.

Research suggests, though, that lack of sleep can lead to memory problems, depression, cardiovascular concerns, cancer and increased risk of accidents.

"In the last couple of years, I've seen more overworked patients taking on extra shifts or second jobs," Dr. Raman Malhotra, an assistant professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Saint Louis University, said in a university news release. "For someone who is suffering from work-related sleep issues, changing jobs isn't always an option. Instead, we've got to offer solutions to make the best of the current situation."

Malhotra offered some suggestions for people who have sleep problems because of irregular work schedules.

For instance, if you work the night shift and sleep during the day, make sure your blinds are closed and reduce other sources of light in the bedroom. Being exposed to sunlight after a night shift can confuse the brain so you should find ways to reduce sunlight exposure before you go to bed.

"Wear sunglasses on the way home from work," Malhotra said. "And, conversely, before work, spend time in a well-lit room."

Among the other tips:

  • Avoid vigorous activity before you go to bed and stay busy before you go to work. Your activity level can tell your body whether it's time for work or sleep.
  • Let your family and friends know about your sleep schedule and ask them not to phone or otherwise disturb you while you're sleeping.
  • Consider seeing a sleep specialist if you notice that sleep deprivation is affecting your life. Perhaps you're less productive at work or getting complaints on the job, losing your temper with your family or having difficulty staying awake at your child's recital.

For some people, Malhotra said, medication can help with sleep difficulties.

More information

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has more about shift work.

Posted: March 2010


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