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home : news : national news free June 24, 2016

5/4/2013 10:54:00 AM
Nurses at risk for shift work sleep disorder

Like police officers, firefighters, doctors, paramedics, and pilots, nurses are at risk for developing shift work sleep disorder, a syndrome characterized by prolonged insomnia and excessive sleepiness due to the interruption of the body's natural sleep-wake cycles. While having a nontraditional work schedule does not automatically lead to SWSD, an increasing number of jobs require shift work and there has been a rise in the number of people reporting symptoms of the disorder.

Studies show that shift workers tend to both sleep fewer hours during each 24-hour period and experience less satisfactory sleep than non-shift workers. Over a prolonged period of time, the loss of sleep and normal sleep rhythms can lead to difficulty concentrating, remembering information and making decisions. Other symptoms include impaired hand-eye coordination and increased reaction times, both of which pose risks in a medical setting.

Sleep deprivation among nurses has become one of the most common issues affecting the quality of care in hospitals as well as the physical and mental health of the care providers themselves. Nurses who experience excessive sleepiness have been shown to make more mistakes when administering drugs and using medical equipment. In addition to having have high rates of absenteeism and high incidents of automobile accidents, people who suffer from SWSD are also at risk for developing serious health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.

While nurses and other shift workers cope with interrupted sleep cycles in a variety of ways, from consuming caffeinated beverages to taking sleep aids, the only true remedy for sleepiness is to sleep. For many workers with nontraditional work schedules, avoiding SWSD comes down to two things -- making sleep a priority and learning to nap.

Here are some tips for nurses, and anyone suffering from SWSD, to get a better's night sleep.

* Make sleep a priority. When it's time to snooze, make your sleep space a "do not disturb" zone. Turn off the phone. Block out or eliminate noise from other parts of the home. Darken your bedroom with blackout shades or by wearing an eye mask.

* Schedule exercise to aid sleep. Exercise is a key factor in establishing healthy sleep habits. Set aside time for aerobic exercise during the work week but not within three hours of bedtime. Since exercise raises your body temperature, it can be harder to fall asleep soon after.

* Plan ahead. Begin to change your sleep schedule three days prior to a shift change. On each of the three days, adjust your bedtime and wake time by one to two hours so that your circadian rhythm has a chance to adjust before the change.

* Nap smart. Night workers -- especially those who have been awake for several hours prior to their shift -- can benefit from a 30-minute nap prior to leaving for work. Whenever possible, find a spot at work for a 10-minute catnap during your break. If you become sleepy while driving home, pull over for some quick shuteye

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