Managing Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) can be avoided by working conventional daytime hours. However, many people must work irregular shifts and long hours because of occupational requirements and/or socioeconomic considerations. For example, services provided by health care professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses, paramedics), military personnel, public safety workers (e.g., police officers, fire fighters, security guards), utility workers (e.g., linemen), transportation workers (e.g., airline personnel, bus drivers, taxi drivers), and other occupations (e.g., gas station attendants, waiters/waitresses) often are needed 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Also, many companies in the manufacturing industry must operate continuously to be profitable. In some cases, companies pay employees a higher wage to work irregular shifts, which can be very attractive for workers. These companies often conduct surveys and interviews to address the needs and concerns of shift workers.

When shift work is unavoidable, lifestyle changes, such as practicing good sleep hygiene (healthy sleep habits) and taking steps to reduce stress, can help diminish the effects of working irregular hours. Good sleep hygiene involves following a regular sleep schedule; exercising daily (speak with your doctor before beginning an exercise program); eating a healthy diet (may include sleep-inducing foods); and avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol. Stress reduction therapies include meditation, yoga, massage, and biofeedback.

Shift workers should be sure to take short breaks frequently and avoid rotating schedules and long commutes if possible. If you work irregular hours and develop symptoms of shift work sleep disorder, contact your physician or a sleep specialist for diagnosis and treatment.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 14 Apr 2009

Last Modified: 05 Oct 2015