What Are the Symptoms of Shift Work Sleep Disorder?

Medically Reviewed on 5/17/2021
Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD)
Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) symptoms are similar to insomnia.

Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a type of sleep disorder diagnosed in people who work evening shifts or night shifts for a long time. It is common in the following groups:

  • People who have early-morning shifts
  • People who have night shifts
  • People who have overnight shifts
  • People who have rotating shifts

Its symptoms are similar to insomnia and include

  • Difficulty in falling asleep at particular times
  • Excessive sleepiness (feeling sleepy even after getting seven to eight hours of sleep) when at work
  • Decreased attention span
  • Headache
  • Lack of energy
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent episodes of a bad mood
  • Irritability
  • Acidity

Nearly 2 out of every 10 full-time employed Americans do work in shifts. However, not every one of them is suffering from SWSD. The condition is found to affect 1 to 4 out of every 10 workers who work night/evening shifts.

How is shift work disorder diagnosed?

A person may have trouble adjusting to a new shift that falls between 7 pm and 6 am. For a few weeks, the person does not face any sleep issues after getting seven to eight hours of sleep during any time of the day. The problem starts gradually. If after several weeks, the person is unable to sleep well, then it could be shift work sleep disorder. On average, people with these disorders sleep three-four hours less than those working regular day shifts. For shift work disorder to be diagnosed, its symptoms must be present for at least continuous three months. It is also possible that the symptoms may improve after resuming dayshift work.

If working outside the normal working hours (dayshift) is taking a severe toll on sleep, it is recommended to consult a sleep medicine specialist. Sleep medicine specialists are specialized doctors who can diagnose and treat sleep disorders. They conduct tests, such as sleep studies, and evaluate the patient’s sleep diaries (logging) to diagnose shift work sleep disorder.

How do you treat shift work sleep disorder?

Once the doctor diagnoses shift work sleep disorder, they may

  • Advise the patient to expose themselves to artificial bright light during certain times of the day.
  • Prescribe certain sleep pills so that the patient can get adequate rest after their working hours.
  • Prescribe pills that help stay awake during shifts.

Here are a few tips that can help deal with shift work sleep disorder

  • If possible, take a nap while working night shifts.
  • Try to maintain the same sleep schedule on all days of the entire week including the weekends.
  • Avoid taking caffeine three to four hours before the scheduled sleep time.
  • Try to sleep in a dark room and avoid exposure to bright light.
  • Make sure others do not disturb during sleep time. Instruct family members to not make any noise, display “do not disturb” signboard on the door, etc.


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Medically Reviewed on 5/17/2021
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Shift Work – Overview. http://sleepeducation.org/essentials-in-sleep/shift-work

Pacheco D. Shift Work Disorder: What It Is, What Causes It, and How It Can Be Diagnosed and Treated. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/shift-work-disorder/