Plus, Rosekind says shift workers also could include business travelers who often cross time zones and people who get up very early in the morning to make a one-hour-plus commute to work.
Experts say shift workers are often hardest hit by sleep problems. Their biological clocks are confused, and when they try to get shuteye while the rest of the world is active, they can get disturbed by neighborhood noises, phone calls, kids at home, or a ringing doorbell.
Meir Kryger, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, says people who don't sleep well can exhibit the following symptoms:
- Frequent sleepiness
- Nodding off at meetings or while driving
- Difficulty with concentration
- Lapses in memory
- Poor performance, worse than usual
- Mood changes, such as being more snappy and irritable
These symptoms, when manifested at work, can have mild to grave consequences, depending on the job. "If you're sitting around and you're at a computer, it's not a big deal, but if you're operating a motor vehicle, it is a big deal," says Kryger.
For people who think they might have a sleep problem, here are some suggested first steps of action from Kryger and Rosekind:
- Get evaluated by your primary health care provider to see if you have a treatable medical condition.
- Educate yourself about sleep issues, and take advantage of sleep diaries and other resources available at the web sites of respectable organizations, such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
- To find a board-certified sleep specialist or center, turn to the AASM web site, or ask your doctor for a referral.
- Evaluate out your priorities. How important is doing shift work for you?
- Explore your own workplace options. Try talking with your supervisor or your union representatives about other jobs that could be done during the daytime.
Shift work is only one of the problems related to slumber that concerns employees and their employers. The AASM reports at least 84 sleep disorders.