Topic Overview

Is this topic for you?

This topic is for people who have trouble sleeping because they work a night shift or rotating shifts. If you have trouble sleeping because of other reasons, see the topic Insomnia.

What is shift work sleep disorder?

Shift work sleep disorder is trouble sleeping because you work nights or rotating shifts. You also may have this problem if you have trouble staying awake or alert when you are supposed to work your shift. You may not be able to sleep during the day, and you may not feel rested with the sleep you do get.

Shift work sleep disorder involves a problem with your body's 24-hour internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Light and dark help your body know when to be active and when to rest. Light is a cue to be awake, while dark tells your body to sleep. When you work at night and sleep during the day, your body's internal clock needs to reset to let you sleep during the day. Sometimes that's hard to do.

This sleep disorder usually is a problem for people who work all night. But people who work an early morning shift-for example, starting at 4 a.m.-also may have sleep problems. Rotating shift work also can be hard. In these shifts, people work the day shift on some days and the night shift on others.

Getting enough good sleep is not a problem for everyone who works nights. Many people who work nights get plenty of restful sleep during the day. Some people are "night owls," and they adjust well to working at night.

Many people have trouble sleeping once in a while, especially if they are getting used to a new work shift. But be sure to talk to your doctor if you have trouble sleeping or you have trouble staying alert when you are supposed to be awake. You could have a sleep problem. Or you may have another medical problem that causes insomnia.

How is shift work sleep disorder diagnosed?

Your doctor will use a sleep journal(What is a PDF document?) and possibly sleep studies to see if you have sleep problems from shift work. He or she will ask questions about your work hours, when you sleep, how much you sleep, and how you feel when you wake up. Your doctor also will ask if you feel very tired or fall asleep while you're at work.

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