What is SWSD
Shift work sleep disorder or SWSD is a sleeping disorder that affects individuals that work irregular shifts outside the normal working hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Irregular shifts include early mornings, night-shifts, split shifts and rotational shifts, such as 4-days on 4 days off.
A non-traditional work schedule can disrupt somebody's circadian rhythm or internal body clock due to the inconsistencies awake/asleep patterns.
The circadian rhythm Is What regulates feelings of tiredness and wakefulness throughout a 24 hour period, when knocked out of sync it can have a great affect on one's ability to fall asleep, achieve good quality sleep and feel generally well-rested the following day.
Symptoms of SWSD.
- Having trouble falling asleep and getting good quality sleep (insomnia).
- Feelings of improper/insufficient sleep regardless of sleep duration.
- Lack of energy throughout the day.
- Feeling unjustly lethargic.
- Easily irritated in addition to feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Difficulty with personal relationships
- Maintaining professionalism in the workplace.
Why is it Important to Sleep at Night?
Sleep makes up a huge proportion of our lives (approximately 1/3),
so it comes at no surprise that sleep is incredibly important for general health and wellbeing.
During sleep, the body rests, recuperates and repairs self; so without enough sleep, the body will eventually shut down.
Whilst in deep sleep the brain processes information, forms memories and repairs itself. In a similar fashion, the body repairs tissues, forms new blood cells and regulates hormone levels.
Without enough high-quality sleep, these processes simply will not happen, resulting in a decline in both physical and mental health.
How to Treat Shift Work Sleep Disorder.
The best treatment for SWSD is prevention. There are a number of precautions one can take to reduce the risk of developing the disorder. Here are just a few examples:
- Writing down and recording sleep time, quality and duration. Pinpointing when your sleep is adversely affected will allow you to see what lifestyle factors are contributing the most.
- Reducing the number of irregular shift patterns worked in a row.
- Taking a decent break after a sustained period of irregular shifts can help to reset the body clock and get your sleep routine back in check.
- Avoiding extended hours of work that intrude into normal sleeping hours. This is particularly important when considering overtime on top of your already irregular shifts.
- Finding a workplace that is close to home. This, of course, is not always a viable option, but it will reduce the time spent commuting and increase potential time spent sleeping.
- Avoiding randomly timed shifts that are too close together, such as working a late shift, followed by an early the next morning.
Exercise and Sleep.
Another prevention/treatment technique for shift work sleep disorder is exercise.
As little as 10 minutes a day of aerobic exercise, such as cycling, jogging, skipping and even walking can greatly improve sleep quality and duration.
Exercise has many positive effects on other physical and mental health issues swell, furthering improvements in sleep quality.
When to Exercise and How Much.
When working long, irregular shifts, it can be difficult to find the time or motivation to exercise. If you are struggling with sleep disorders (including SWSD), getting active needs to become a priority.
Exercise doesn't have to be hours spent in the gym or 5k runs every morning, It can, in fact, be as easy as walking or cycling to work, playing sports, or including yoga into your bedtime routine.
As previously mentioned, as little as 10 minutes per day can significantly improve the effects of SWSD, improving mood and well-being in the process.
Mindfulness and Meditation.
Something that is often placed second in importance to physical exercise is mental exercise.
As aerobic activities, such as cardio, weight lifting, etc. Train the body; mindfulness trains the mind.
Whist sleep disorders are often the result of physical stimulus: stress from work, lack of nutrition, irregular shift patterns, etc. Making mental adjustment can result in these factors shrinking in importance, and effecting sleep less and less.
The practice of mindfulness comes in many shapes and forms, including walks in nature, breathing techniques, yoga – and the most prolific, and meditation.
What is Meditation/Mindfulness and How do they Affect Sleep Quality?
Using meditation and mindfulness is an incredibly helpful practice in the quest for a proper night's rest.
Mindfulness is not a single technique or even a collective of techniques, instead regarded as a journey or goal.
Put simply mindfulness, or being mindful, is the act of being entirely present in the here and now; no thoughts of the future, no dwelling on the past.
Achieving mindfulness is usually accomplished through mindfulness techniques, which can be anything that centers the mind, and allows thoughts to come and go without contemplation or opinion.
A lot of people find they do this best whilst exercising, working their way through a yoga routine or simple by paying close attention to their breath (the most widely practiced form of meditation).
Mindfulness through meditation is proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as a whole host of other negative issues including sleep disorders.
Through the regular practice of mindfulness, one will often see noticeable and significant improvements in sleep quality and overall health.
Recreating Night-Time Vibes.
Working outside of regular hours can result in you being awake when you should be asleep, and asleep when you should be awake, which can be incredibly disruptive for developing a decent sleeping pattern.
Creating a nighttime environment can be used to trick your body into believing that it is night time; making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep!
- Here are a few ways you can easily recreate some night time vibes:
- Blackout your windows and keep your bedroom as dark as possible.
- Avoid screens or any bright visual stimulation.
- Keep your environment quite and ask other individuals in the household to do the same.
- create a 'night-time' routine in which you carry out religiously before sleeping – regardless of time of day.
A Note to Leave With.
The way how lack of sleep affects your health becomes very apparent when working irregular shifts. Living in a consistent routine of working random hours at antisocial times can lead to a lack of sleep and poor sleep quality.
"Sleep more, live longer" is a saying that most certainly holds true; and without enough quality sleep, negative symptoms and a decline in health are sure to follow.
To avoid SWSD prevention is the best remedy. If you find that your working hours are affecting your sleep the are many techniques that can be used to help, including exercise and meditation.