Shift Workers Battle Sleep Disorders

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

March 30, 2005

About 20 million Americans have nontraditional work schedules that conflict with their bodies' biological clocks.

"They're trying to stay awake or work at night when their clock is saying you should be asleep," said Dr. Steven Koenig.

Ruth Guchu worked the night shift for over three years. She said she even showed signs of narcolepsy because of lack of sleep. "I usually got from three to four and a half hours. On my good days I got five hours," said Guchu.

"They have insomnia during the day when they're trying to sleep, they're sleepy at night when they're trying to stay awake and that's the big problem," said Koenig.

Doctors say that problem leads to many more problems including poor work performance, irritability, concentration problems, and in Guchu's case, memory loss. "Many times when I left work in the morning I would get outside and I wouldn't remember where my car was, it would come to me that I had parked on the other side of the garage," said Guchu.

Experts warn it can get worse. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 100,000 auto accidents occur each year because of sleep-related crashes.

If it's not possible to work a nine to five type of schedule, doctors recommend sleep stability. "Having as regular asleep, wake schedule if possible is good. And then also just getting enough sleep as you can," said Koenig.

If you still find yourself nodding off at work, doctors said to try to go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night for four nights and then keep the last bedtime. This method will increase the amount of time in bed without causing a sudden change in schedule.

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