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What do these have in common?
- Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant accident in Pennsylvania, 1979
- Challenger space shuttle explosion, 1986
- Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, 1989
In-depth studies into all the incidents cited human error due to sleep deprivation as a major contributing factor in each accident.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of Americans are sleep-deprived, with nearly 84 million getting less than seven hours of sleep a night.
“As a nation, we aren’t getting enough sleep,” says Dr. Sarah Hussain, who specializes in family and sleep medicine. “Sleep deprivation is linked to motor vehicle accidents, industrial disasters, medical errors and other occupational errors, due to unintentionally falling asleep, nodding off while driving and difficulty in performing tasks due to sleepiness.”
“The risks associated with sleep deprivation include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, mental distress/ depression, coronary heart disease, immunosuppression, cancer and increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity,” explained Dr. Hussain.
Shift work and excessive sleepiness
Millions of Americans are considered shift workers – a term that encompasses anyone who follows a work schedule outside of the typical 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. workday, including pilots, doctors, nurses, commercial drivers, bridge-builders, and customer service representatives. While shift work has provided the United States with an excellent way to stay competitive in a globalized economy by increasing production and customer service without major increases in infrastructure, it doesn’t come without risk.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, some of the most serious and persistent problems that shift workers face are frequent sleep disturbances and the resulting excessive sleepiness. Studies show that excessive sleepiness can have a negative effect on things like concentration, reaction time, attention, memory, and mood.
The issue of shift work sleep disorder becomes even more alarming when you consider the fact that shift workers are often employed in some of the most dangerous professions, including firefighting, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and security.
Common sleep disorders
“Common sleep disorders seen in the sleep centers are sleep apnea, periodic limb movements disorder, insomnia, narcolepsy, REM behavior disorder, and circadian rhythm sleep disorder,” said Dr. Hussain.
Shift work sleep disorder involves an issue with your body’s 24-hour internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Light and dark help your body to know when you’re supposed to be awake and alert and when to rest and sleep. When you work nights and sleep during the day, your body needs to reset to allow you to sleep during the day. Often, that’s not easy to do.
A type of circadian rhythm sleep disorder, shift work sleep disorder is when you have trouble sleeping because you work nights or rotating shifts. You also might have this problem if you have trouble staying awake or alert when you are supposed to be working. It may be difficult for you to sleep when you have the chance (during the day), and you may not feel adequately rested with the sleep you do get.
Symptoms of shift work sleep disorder
The main complaint of those suffering from this disorder is excessive sleepiness. Other symptoms include:
- Irritability or depressed mood
- Difficulties with personal relationships
- Disrupted sleep schedule
Strategies for sleeping better
Dr. Hussain recommends the following strategies to help yourself get enough sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
- Turn your bedroom into a quiet, dark room by turning off all electronic devices like the TV, computer, phone, and other light-emitting gadgets.
- Avoid large meals, nicotine, alcohol and caffeine or exercise right before bedtime.
“Getting enough sleep and practicing good sleep habits should be a priority for everyone. Employers can consider adjusting work schedules to allow their workers time to get enough sleep, too,” said Dr. Hussain. “Shift workers need to be educated to improve their sleep.”
If you would like help tackling your shift work sleep disorder, a Kettering Health sleep center can assist. Doctors begin with a sleep consultation, which includes a complete history and physical exam. A sleep study, done either in a sleep lab or at home, will be conducted to collect details on your sleep.
Approximately 50 million people in the United States suffer from a sleep-related disorder. Whether you suffer from shift work sleep disorder, insomnia, sleep apnea, or any one of the many different types of sleep disorders, Kettering Health is provides you an opportunity to have your questions answered and provide treatment options at any of their seven sleep center locations across the greater Dayton area.