Working long hours or night shifts is not an unusual circumstance in the medical field. But did you know that irregular schedules can cause a sleep disorder known as Shift Work Disorder? “Shift Work” applies to any job that occurs outside of traditional work hours and may happen when other people are sleeping. Untreated, Shift Work Disorder can cause major health problems, so it’s important for healthcare professionals to understand the signs and know how to overcome the problem. How can you spot SWD and help your team overcome the effects?

Primary Symptoms

Two common symptoms appear with SWD:

  • Insomnia
  • Excessive Sleepiness

While it seems as though these might be the opposite, they often go hand in hand. The inability to sleep during dedicated sleep time can make your employees experience tiredness, fatigue, and reduced alertness. They may want to nap while working, which can cut into their overall productivity. But the cycle continues when, despite their feelings of exhaustion, when they can’t sleep again at bedtime.

Long Term Complications

SWD can lead to long-term medical conditions. This includes a high risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. It is also common for those suffering from SWD to become dependent on drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress and inability to sleep. Of course, worker safety is also a major problem for employees working alternate shifts as they may be at higher risk of workplace accidents.

Lifestyle Changes

What can someone do to counter the effects of SWD? Some studies indicate that an unhealthy diet may contribute to increased instances of SWD, so step one could be providing access to healthy meals and snacks in the workplace. Other lifestyle changes management teams should promote include:

  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule even on days off
  • Limiting caffeine intake at least 4 hours before your bedtime
  • Sleeping in a bedroom dark by using heavy shades or blackout curtains
  • Encouraging the use of over-the-counter melatonin


If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to break out your employees out of the cycle of insomnia and sleepiness induced by SWD, they may need to consult with a medical professional. Melatonin is considered safe and can be used without a doctor’s direction, but other medications require a prescription. Sleeping pills or sedatives can cause dependence. Provide your team a pathway to discussing their concerns with a doctor.

Are you looking for more ways you can improve shift work?

When you need talented medical professionals to staff your overnight shifts, call Fortus Healthcare Resources. Our dialysis staffing companies provide travel nurses, nurse and physician recruiting, and clinical practice consulting.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)