Night Shifts Are Triggering Sleep Disorders in Workers

FRIDAY, Dec. 8, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- More than half of night shift workers have at least one sleep disorder, as nocturnal labor plays havoc with body rhythms, a new study shows.

About 51% of people working nights score positive for at least one sleep disorder, said senior study author Dr. Marike Lancel, a professor of behavioral and social sciences at GGZ Drenthe’s Mental Health Institute in The Netherlands.

“We showed that compared to working regular shifts during daytime hours, working other shift types is associated with a higher occurrence of disordered sleep, particularly in rotating and regular night shift work,” Lancel said.

Nearly 15% of American workers have a non-daytime shift schedule, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There’s a lot of evidence that shift work reduces the quality of sleep, but little is known about how different shifts influence specific sleep disorders, Lancel said. 

For this study, researchers recruited more than 37,000 people and asked them questions about their shift work patterns and sleeping habits.

The research team screened participants for six common categories of sleep disorders: insomnia, excessive sleeping (hypersomnia), sleepwalking (parasomnia), sleep-related breathing disorders, sleep-related movement disorders and sleep-wake disorders related to circadian rhythm.

Across all of the people questioned, about a third had at least one sleep disorder, and nearly 13% had two or more.

Working regular night shifts appears to be the most debilitating condition for sleep, results showed.

Half of night shift workers reported sleeping less than six hours a day, 51% reported having one sleep disorder and 26% reported two or more sleep disorders.

The new study appears Dec. 7 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Men tend to sleep fewer hours than women, but sleep disorders are more common in females, results show.

Age also influences a person’s sleep. Older folks tend to sleep shorter hours, but most sleep disorders occur in people 30 or younger.

The effects of shift work on sleep are most pronounced in young adults with a lower education, Lancel said. That group both slept shorter hours and were more likely to have a sleep disorder.

For the average night shift worker, their out-of-rhythm work pattern will increase the likelihood that they’ll struggle to get regular, healthy sleep, Lancel concluded.

“Because those working night shift will remain de-synchronized with the day-work focused environment they live in, it is unlikely to completely prevent all negative consequences of night work,” Lancel said in a journal news release.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more on sleeping better on the night shift.

SOURCE: Frontiers, news release, Dec. 7, 2023

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