Treatment: Shift Work Disorder

Treatment: Shift Work Disorder

If you feel that you or someone you know suffers from Shift Work Disorder, you probably want to know how to treat it.  Below you will find some interventions that have been successful for others in the treatment of SWD.

“Prescribed sleep/wake scheduling”

Experts agree that there is no such thing as an “ideal” night work schedule, but some schedules may be better than others. For example, rotating shifts every two weeks in a forward (delaying) direction was found to be easier than rotation in a backward (advancing) direction. Some experts have advocated short runs (1 to 2 days) of night work with time for recovery; however, in the traditional heavy industries, longer (5 to 7 day) runs remain the rule.

Bright light treatment

light therapyThe light-dark cycle is the most important environmental time cue for entraining circadian rhythms of most species, including humans, and bright artificial light exposure has been developed as a method to improve circadian adaptation in night workers. The timing of bright light exposure is critical for its phase shifting effects. To maximize a delay of the body clock, bright light exposure should occur in the evening or first part of the night, and bright light should be avoided in the morning

Melatonin Treatment

Melatonin is a hormone secreted by the pineal gland for about 12 hours at night. Taking melatonin resets the body clock in the opposite direction from light exposure; that is, taking melatonin in the afternoon or evening may cause the clock to reset to an earlier time, while taking melatonin in the morning may cause the clock to reset to a later time. Melatonin has been shown to accelerate the adaptation of the circadian system to a night work schedule

Medications that promote alertness

medication for sleep work disorder

Caffeine is the most widely used alerting drug in the world and has been shown to improve alertness in simulated night work. Caffeine may or may not be recommended as a treatment for shift work disorder but it’s The Gypsy Nurses’ go to drug of choice.

Modafinil and armodafinil are non-amphetamine alerting drugs originally developed for the treatment narcolepsy that have been approved by the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration) for excessive sleepiness associated with Sleep Work Disorder.

Medications that promote daytime sleep

Obtaining enough sleep during the day is a major problem for many night workers. Hypnotics given in the morning can lengthen daytime sleep; however, some studies have shown that nighttime sleepiness may be unaffected.

Other Interventions for Sleep Work Disorder

sleep work disorder

  • Minimize exposure to light on your way home from work if you are on the night shift to keep morning sunlight from activating your internal “daytime clock.”
  • Follow bedtime rituals and try to keep a regular sleep schedule – even on weekends.
  • Go to sleep as soon as possible after work. It is important to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every day.At home, ask family and friends to help create a quiet and peaceful setting during your sleep time.
  • Have family members wear headphones to listen to music or watch TV. Encourage people in the household to avoid vacuuming, dish washing, and other noisy activities during your sleep time.
  • Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the front door so that delivery people and friends will not knock or ring the doorbell.

Head Nurse; A fellow blogger writes about how to deal with night shift in the post titled Beginners Guide to Working Nights.  I would encourage you to read this informative and somewhat comical entry for the new night shift worker.  The recommendations are excellent for sufferers of Shift Work Disorder.

[quote author=”- Head Nurse”]That old saw about a fifteen-minute shower being equal to eight hours’ sleep? Is true. Don’t make any decisions about anything until you’ve poured a substantial quantity of hot water over your head. This goes whether you’re working that night or not. It’s amazing how far a little soap will go to make you feel Almost Human.[/quote]


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As a travel nursing educator, Candy aka Gypsy Nurse, RN has worked in healthcare for nearly 20 years, working up the ranks from CNA to LPN to RN. For the past eleven years, she’s worked as a travel nurse, allowing her to practice and live in 15 states throughout the U.S. Candy still works occasionally as a travel nurse but spends most of her time providing a supportive information and resources through and it's affiliated social networks.

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4 Responses to Treatment: Shift Work Disorder

  1. Hi Gypsy! I hope you don’t mind, but I wrote an article several years ago about working the night shift. I’ve been on days for a few years, and I start a new job on Monday. Will be working night shift. So, I’m going to share my article with you here if that’s OK for some of my “night shift” ideas…

  2. Katerina says:

    Do you have your sources? I would love to read more about this to figure out how to reset my clock to working overnights.


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