Working on night shifts might have become a way of life for many professionals in the city, but altering the sleep-wake cycle will have its own effect on the body; it could cause a sleep disorder in some. Sleep specialists say that such disorders can be treated by taking simple measures at the workplace and home.
Shift Work Sleep Disorder occurs when the body’s internal biological clock gets altered or confused. While there are many professionals who work at night, it is the employees of the Information Technology sector who are the most affected, mainly due to the regular night shift patterns, say sleep specialists.
“More than 80% of persons suffering from shift work sleep disorder are from the IT and BPO sector. This is because they work in the same shifts, disrupting their sleep pattern,” said N. Ramakrishnan, senior consultant, Sleep Medicine, Apollo Hospitals.
“Most of us go to bed between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. and wake up between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. This is the usual sleep-wake up time and socially accepted hours of sleeping. For those with this sleep disorder, the symptoms are like chronic jet lag. Irritability, anxiety and depression are among the symptoms. The hormonal cycle is messed up. We are noticing menstrual irregularities among women and infertility among men,” he explained.
There is the risk of lifestyle-related health problems. High blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, early heart disease and stroke are common, Dr. Ramakrishnan said.
Koushik Muthuraja, consultant, pulmonologist and sleep specialist, Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre, said, “We have the circadian rhythm that is considered to be our bodies’ internal biological clock. This clock on a 24-hour basis regulates certain changes in our body, such as hormonal secretions, temperature regulation, sleep timing and other physiological changes. It controls two hormones — cortisol and melatonin. “Cortisol needs daylight for secretion and helps us to stay active during the day, while melatonin needs darkness for secretion and helps us to have a sound and undisturbed sleep at night. But when people work at night continuously, the biological clock gets confused. There is an internal conflict between the body’s biological clock and our sleep wake cycle. So, the body fails to recognise when one has to sleep,” he explained.
As a result, a majority of night shift workers present themselves with two major complaints, he said, adding: “Excessive sleepiness during night work and inability to sleep during mornings. A few of them end up visiting a sleep clinic for help. Excessive tiredness, inability to focus, headaches, mood swings, irritability, lack of intimacy with partners and psychological stress are all part of this disorder. Mostly, the patients are less than 40 years old.”.
Dr. Ramakrishnan said the treatment included a review of the entire cycle. “A significant amount of counselling is involved. We tell them to ensure appropriate light and dark exposure. They should ensure that their workplace is appropriately lit at night time. When they go back home, they should avoid driving and instead take a car pool. They can use eye shades. They should eat light and make their room conducive. Occasionally, we use melatonin for treatment,” he said.