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Sleepless in Seattle: Shift Work Sleep Disorder and Worker Injury

TiredA recent national pharmaceutical advertisement touted the benefits of a new medicine formulated to combat a little known workplace hazard: Shift Work Sleep Disorder.  The medication promised a host of benefits, including improved wakefulness and alertness, but also came with the usual litany of side effects, some of which could cause serious injury, or even death.

This begs the question: what is this disorder that could create a need for such serious medication and how common is it?

Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD)

According to the Cleveland Clinic,

“SWSD is a sleep disorder that affects people who frequently rotate shifts or work at night. Schedules of these people go against the body’s natural Circadian rhythm, and individuals have difficulty adjusting to the different sleep and wake schedule. SWSD consists of a constant or recurrent pattern of sleep interruption that results in insomnia or excessive sleepiness. This disorder is common in people who work non-traditional hours, usually between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.”

In this slowly recovering economy, many workers have been forced to take jobs with nontraditional schedules, including second and third shift.  Needing the income, many workers will do whatever they can to rearrange their family and personal lives to accommodate their work schedule.  However, what a worker cannot rearrange is their natural Circadian rhythms that in most cases do not sync with a nocturnal work schedule.

The National Sleep Foundation notes:

  • “Some of the most serious and persistent problems shift workers face are frequent sleep disturbance and associated excessive sleepiness. Sleepiness/fatigue in the work place can lead to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, errors, injuries, and fatalities. The issue becomes more alarming when you consider that shift workers are often employed in the most dangerous of jobs, such as firefighting, emergency medical services, law enforcement and security.”

In fact, it is the very people we depend on most that often work these late night schedules.

What are the Symptoms?

The National Sleep Foundation lists these symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Disrupted sleep schedules
  • Reduced performance
  • Difficulties with personal relationships
  • Irritability/depressed mood

Any one of these symptoms can lead to decreased concentration and accidents in the workplace.  It is important to remember that even the most diligent shift worker who maintains a regular daytime sleeping schedule can still fall victim to these symptoms as their body resists wakefulness during the night.

One important tool to combat this disorder is napping, a practice that has been traditionally banned in most workplaces.  Many sleep experts suggest short naps are key to combating many of the symptoms of SWSD.

While it is unclear how many times this disorder has been cited as a direct cause of a workplace injury, the failure of management to take into account the challenges shift workers face can add a complex dimension to the cause of night time accidents.

If you have been injured in a workplace accident you should first seek immediate medical care.  Next, you should contact an experienced Washington Workers Compensation Lawyer at Emery Reddy for assistance in filing your Labor & Industries claim.

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