Focus on Fatigue

Shift Work Disorder

By July 3, 2019 No Comments

Issue #60 – July/August 2019

Welcome to Focus on Fatigue!

Winter is now well underway here in Australia. That means the sun is slow to wake up in the morning and it goes to bed much earlier. For shift workers, the idea of having such a regular routine of waking and sleeping is far from the norm. Working non-standard hours, and trying to get adequate sleep during off-times, comes with huge challenges which can, at times, seem overwhelming.

In this month’s Focus on Fatigue we’ll be talking about Shift Work Disorder. What is it? And what can shift workers do to reduce its symptoms?

Best wishes for the month ahead,
The FRMS Team



InterDynamics Pty Ltd
320 Adelaide Street Brisbane Qld 4000
Tel +61 7 3229 8300

Views expressed in articles and links provided are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InterDynamics (except where directly attributed).


Shift Work Disorder

Most people who work shifts will struggle, at times, with periods of insomnia or excessive sleepiness. Such struggles can be said to be a ‘normal’ reaction to staying awake when your body wants to sleep and trying to sleep when your body wants to be awake. However, for some shift workers, the demands of shift work result in ongoing sleep challenges that begin to interfere with both work and family life. This is where the term ‘Shift Work Disorder’ begins to apply.

What is Shift Work Disorder?

Shift Work Disorder (SWD) is a Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder. The National Sleep Foundation lists the symptoms of SWD as follows:

  • Excessive sleepiness when you need to be awake, alert, and productive.
  • Insomnia, or the inability to sleep when you need to. This can mean trouble falling asleep, or waking up before you’ve slept sufficiently.
  • Sleep that feels unrefreshing or insufficient.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Irritability or depression.
  • Difficulty with personal relationships.

It is estimated that around 10% of all shift workers suffer from SWD. The disorder can develop in those who work night shifts, rotating shifts, or early morning shifts. The symptoms inherent in SWD can result in sufferers experiencing a state of chronic sleep deprivation, which has significant implications for health, productivity and safety.

Coping with Shift Work Disorder

It is important that sufferers of SWD make sleep a priority in order to reduce the impact of symptoms. For example:

  • Maintain a sleep diary – this may help identify problem patterns that can be adjusted and give an indication of how much sleep you’re achieving in each 24-hour period.
  • Regulating light exposure – minimise exposure to light on the way home from night shift, but get lots of bright light before the start of shifts to suppress melatonin.
  • Bedtime rituals – following regular bedtime rituals, such as putting on pyjamas and brushing teeth, can be a subtle way of telling the brain it is time for sleep.
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene – even if you are sleeping during the day, it is important that your bedroom is cool, quiet and dark.
  • Do Not Disturb – put a sign on the front door to prevent disturbances.
  • Work hours – If possible, decrease the number of night shifts in a row to a more tolerable level.
  • Napping – If possible, plan a nap before or during your shift. This will help to improve alertness.

When Behavioural Interventions are Not Enough

For times when the symptoms of SWD persist, despite good behavioural practices, there are a number of pharmacological interventions that can be used to increase wakefulness at work and assist with sleeping at home. However, these substances often come with side effects and other concerns (such as issues with tolerance). It is important to discuss the pros and cons of such interventions with your doctor.


  • Australasian Sleep Association (2019) Shift work sleep disorder. Accessed: 05/06/19.
  • National Sleep Foundation (2019) Shift work disorder symptoms. Accessed: 05/06/19.
  • Cleveland Clinic (2019) Shift work sleep disorder: Management and treatment. Accessed: 05/06/19.


In the News

Provided below are a selection of articles from around the web on the issues associated with fatigue. We hope you find them useful and interesting.

Video: Matt Walker: Sleep is Your Superpower
Matt Walker, TED Talks, April 2019
Sleep is your life-support system and Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality, says sleep scientist Matt Walker. In this deep dive into the science of slumber, Walker shares the wonderfully good things that happen when you get sleep — and the alarmingly bad things that happen when you don’t, for both your brain and body. Learn more about sleep’s impact on your learning, memory, immune system and even your genetic code — as well as some helpful tips for getting some shut-eye.

Article: Neurologist Exposes Dangers Of Sleep-Tracking Apps
Jan Cortes, Medical Daily, 10 June 2019
If you’ve had trouble sleeping at some point in your life, then you are probably one of the many people who have turned to sleep-tracking applications in hopes of getting “enough sleep.” And at the best of times, this might have worked for you. But does the use of these apps have any negative effects?

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