Topic Overview

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With a sleep journal, you keep track of when you sleep, how much you sleep, and how you feel when you wake up. You write down this information for a week or two. Your doctor will look at it when you're done.

There are several sleep studies you might have so your doctor can find out why you're not sleeping well. These usually are done in a sleep lab.

If your doctor thinks that you have shift work sleep disorder, you might have a test called actigraphy. For this test, you wear a device on your wrist that looks like a watch. The device measures your movement during the day and at night. It helps your doctor learn when you are awake and when you are asleep.

How can shift work sleep disorder affect your health?

Shift work can increase stress, and that may make you more likely to get sick. Lack of sleep from shift work can increase the chance of car accidents and on-the-job accidents. It also can lead to trouble concentrating at work and poor job performance.

Experts also have found that shift workers have a higher chance of getting some health problems, such as colds and the flu, than people who work days.1

Experts don't know exactly why this sleep disorder raises the risk of health problems. But they suspect that shift work may cause problems because, if you work at night, your body makes less melatonin than it needs. Melatonin is a hormone that helps control sleeping and waking cycles. It also plays a role in keeping you healthy by making your immune system strong and preventing the growth of tumors.

Light and dark affect how the body makes melatonin. Most melatonin is made at night. During the day, light tells your body to make less melatonin. If you work at night in artificial light, your body may be making less melatonin than it needs.

What can you do to sleep better when you work nights?

Sometimes sleep problems can be fixed only by switching to a regular work schedule-working in the day and sleeping at night.

But many people are able to work the night shift by making a few changes. You can help yourself get good sleep by keeping your sleeping environment dark and quiet and by taking good care of yourself overall. In some cases, short-term use of prescription medicine or over-the-counter supplements may help.

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