Treatment for shift work sleep disorder include lifestyle changes and over the counter and prescription medications. Shift work sleep disorder requires a two-pronged approach to treatment. The patient needs help sleeping and feeling rested during the sleep cycle, as well as help remaining awake and alert during the work cycle.
Lifestyle changes are the most straightforward method of dealing with sleep disorders from shift work. Since the individual is not sleeping at the same time as the general population, it is important to take into account noises that would not normally be a problem. Wearing ear plugs or using a white noise machine while sleeping to muffle outside noise can help, as can turning phone ringers off if possible.
Use blackout drapes, cover the windows with aluminum foil or poster board, or sleep with an eye mask to keep the room dark. Turn digital clocks and appliances away from the bed or cover the displays so the room remains dark. Set the thermostat on 65° Fahrenheit(18° Celsius), as a room that is too hot or too cold makes sleep difficult.
When driving home from work, wear dark wrap-around sunglasses to block the light. This prevents the brain from gearing up for the day, making it easier to fall asleep at home. It is acceptable to drink caffeinated beverages early in the work shift to maintain alertness, but refrain from caffeine, as well as alcohol, for several hours before bedtime, as both disrupt sleep.
Over the counter melatonin is an effective treatment for shift work sleep disorder. Over the counter melatonin is a man-made version of the hormone produced by the body during the night. Artificial light exposure during shift work can interfere with melatonin production, which in turn negatively affects the sleep cycle.
Doctors have several prescription medications that they can recommend for shift work sleep disorder. Sleeping pills can be used for short periods of time, with the goal of regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Antidepressants also help the body adjust to shift work. There are even prescription medications that can help the worker remain alert on the job.
While lifestyle changes and medications can help reduce the problems associated with shift work sleep disorder, such as fatigue, increased risk of on the job and automobile accidents, and difficulty concentrating, changes to the work schedule can be beneficial as well. Decrease the number of shifts worked consecutively. Shift workers sleep less, on average, than straight day shift workers, and this sleep loss builds up over time. One 48 hour off shift at the conclusion of each shift cycle gives the body time to catch up on lost sleep. Furthermore, straight shifts, even night shifts, are easier on the body than rotating shifts.