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Shift Work Disorder

Many railroaders work on-call, at different times of day, all days of the week. Their hours of sleep and wakefulness may change a lot from day to day. Even railroaders on regular schedules often end up working overtime for which they cannot prepare in advance, creating similar lifestyle challenges.

Railroaders may have to sleep away from home several days each week. The hours available for sleep may not be at the optimal time on their body clocks. Attempting sleep at varying times may make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, and to get enough sleep. Because humans sleep best at night, trying to do so during the day often proves challenging. 

Irregular hours for work and sleep, particularly when they do not sync up with one's body clock, may contribute to development of shift work disorder.

People with shift work disorder report experiencing trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, and feeling excessively sleepy at work, when they need to stay sharp. They may also report that their sleep is unrefreshing or insufficient. Some describe difficulty concentrating, and diminished energy and motivation in waking hours, all worrisome because of their potential consequences for safety on the job and while driving. They may feel irritable or depressed, experiences that may cause difficulty in their interpersonal relationships and family life.

People with shift work disorder sometimes devote major parts of their free time to catching up on sleep. This practice may cut into their family time and social life.

Treatment for shift work disorder

Throughout this website, you will find advice to help you optimize your sleep and alertness, and avoid shift work disorder. Here are some key tactics:

  • Get as much sleep as you can at a regular time every day
  • Extend sleep with well-timed naps
  • Use caffeine judiciously
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about the possible use of medications to help improve your sleep or your alertness. Also discuss possible adverse reactions of these or other medications before taking them. No medication is a substitute for missed sleep.