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Friday, November 16, 2007

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder: I have it

Until a few days ago I thought I only had one disease -- asthma. Now I've learned that the 12 hour shifts I work three nights a week have caused me to develop a new disease -- Circadian rhythm sleep disorder.

From what I've read, Circardian rhythms are the signals you get during the day from the sun light that tell your body what time of day it is. Your body actually increases or decreases hormones based on the time of day.

If you work night you screw this whole process up. So, when you're night shift friends tell you you're chemically screwed up, they are right.

So my being completely exhausted at around 3 a.m. is due to the fact that I'm supposed to be in deep REM sleep at that time. Then, when I get home, I am in and out of sleep all day. I cannot sleep for five straight hours. When I wake up it takes me hours to get back to sleep. Then, when I start my six day off in a row stretch, I can't seem to adjust to a regular sleep pattern.

That's a sign of insomnia. What I have, according to what I've read, is a classic sign of a sleep/awake disorder called Circadian rhythm sleep disorders. (I think I have that right.)

Over time us night shifters become more and more sleep deprived and symptoms start to develop:

  • Headaches (absolutely)

  • Increased irritability & being moody (I have to admit it)

  • Overly emotional (snapping or losing your temper. Just ask my son.)

  • Too sensitive and defensive (getting all worked up over nothing)

  • Contrary behavior (seeing problems that aren't really there)

  • Forgetful (My wife will contend to this)

Who would have imagined there would be a whole scientific effort to study nothing but us poor night shifters, and that they'd even have a disease named in our honor. I don't know if I feel better now or worse.

I suppose I feel a little better because since it's a disease experts have an actual list of things one can do to make it all better. I'll get to that in a bit. But What I'm most concerned about are all the side effects to working nights:

  • Fatigue/ tiredness (Yep, had that)

  • Loss of energy (have this)

  • Loss of sex drive (ummm)

  • Broken sleep after shift (definitely)

  • Constipation (never had that)

  • Stomach problems (I'm on Provoloc)

  • Dehydration (yes)

  • Cardiovascular disorders (I'm not there yet)

  • stymied career advancement (no energy)

  • Eating more junk food junkies (can't keep the weight off)

  • Increased obesity (always having pot-lucks)

  • Staying out of social loop (Never feel like doing anything)

  • increased medical errors (50% caused by lack of sleep)

  • Miscarriage

  • Getting injured at work (I've been lucky)

Dehydration they said is another problem for us night shifters. So I drink a lot of water. Now I have to get up every two hours even when I am sleeping good to go pee. We just can't win .

Serotonin is an important chemical in our bodies that allows us to control our moods and emotions. Research shows that night shifters produce a lower level of serotonin than normal people, because serotonin is only produced during sleeping hours. And, as we get older, our body becomes slower at producing serotonin as it is, which doesn't help. (No, Melitonin won't help either.)

So no wonder we're so out of wack.

What can we do to help ourselves improve our sleep habits. Unlike my asthma the problem would simply go away if I went to days. But that's not an option right. I've tried all these at one time or another, and some work and some don't; and sometimes it doesn't matter what I do. Anyway, here's what the experts recommend to resolve this disease:

  1. Go to days (I've been next in line for 8 years)

  2. Keep room dark (no problem there)

  3. Avoid caffeine (haven't had any in 4 years)

  4. Eat healthy (I am, but don't know how long it will last)

  5. Exercise (I do)

  6. Avoid sedatives (I do)

  7. Try to keep sleep patterns consistent

  8. Pay attention at work (I keep double checking myself)

Good news guys. My friend Milt was wrong, and I will not have 7 years cut off my life. Studies show there is no evidence that working nights has an effect on lifespan or cancer. Yipee.


mielikki said...

wow, I can so identify with many many of those things
what a scarily informative post!

kwrenb said...

I have a friend who also works nights at the hospital -
and has the same disorder.
I think it's probably very common among night workers. The thing is,
the rest of us need you guys that work through the darkness -
the RTs, the nurses, the doctors, the police, even the guy at the 24 hour store - the list goes on and on...
Does it help at all if we say a Big Thanks?

Freadom said...


jmc1980 said...

Have you tried melatonin to get to sleep? i used it when i worked nights. It doesn't work for everyone, but it's so inexpensive its worth a try (about $5 for three months worth).

jmc1980 said...

ignore last comment, Just noticed you said you already tried it