Home Public Health Shift Work and Sleep Apnea – Making the Connection

Shift Work and Sleep Apnea – Making the Connection

by Kelly Maguire

“Shift Work Sleep Disorder” (SWSD) results from a constant or recurring disruption of a person’s normal sleep pattern. A normal sleep pattern is part of the “circadian rhythm”. Natural circadian rhythm, a 24 hour cycle, is when a person sleeps at night and is awake during the day. Shift work interferes with this circadian rhythm. A person whose sleep schedule is irregular does not have normal signals to reset his / her “clock” each day. Shift Work Sleep Disorder turns lives upside down [1].

When Sleep Apnea occurs, breathing stops for a short time period during which less oxygen gets into the bloodstream and consequently, to the brain. Over time, this lack of oxygen can lead to serious health problems. A sudden drop in blood oxygen levels increases blood pressure (hypertension) and puts a strain on the cardiovascular system. People who experience frequent episodes of sleep apnea may also be at higher risk for strokes, memory problems, headaches and mood swings [2].

The link between SWSD and sleep apnea is under study, but research increasingly indicates that people who do shift work and already suffer from sleep apnea have increased apneic occurrences [3]. It becomes a vicious cycle

  • shift work, especially fast-rotating shift work, causes acute sleep deprivation due to interference to the circadian rhythm
  • the sleep deprivation causes increased sleep apneic episodes
  • sleep apnea in turn causes increased sleep deprivation

Obviously, not doing shift work would be the best solution. However if a person must work irregular shifts, the shift worker should try to stay healthy. The first thing to put into practice would be to develop good sleep habits. Try sleeping in a cool dark room with blackout curtains and a fan. The fan keeps the room cool and the white noise helps to block out distracting sounds. Try to get the same amount of sleep as you would normally get when sleeping at night.

Health complications associated with shift work is the reason I took early retirement. I have been retired for three years. Unfortunately, eliminating shift work has not helped to reduce my apneic episodes.


[1] Shift Work and Health Issues (on-line) Available: http://www.sleep-apnea-guide.com/sleep-apnea-and-shift-work.html. Cited 2010 Mar 10.

Shift work has a variety of disruptive effects including:

  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • cardiovascular disturbances
  • metabolic disturbances
  • diabetes
  • peptic ulcers
  • hypertension
  • myocardial infarction
  • cancer
  • depression


  • worsens sleep apnea

[2] Obstructive sleep apnea, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (on-line) Available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obstructive_sleep_apnea. Cited 2010 Mar 10.

Sleep apnea has a variety of disruptive effects including:

  • sleep deprivation
  • cardiovascular diseases
  • hypertension
  • strokes
  • diabetes
  • depression
  • weight gain
  • obesity

[3] LAUDENCKA A, KLAWE JJ, TAFIL-KLAWE M, ZLOMANCZUK P., Does night-shift work induce apnea events in obstructive sleep apnea patients ?, J Physiol Pharmacol 2007;58 Suppl 5(Pt 1):345-7.Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Collegium Medicum in Bydgoszcz, Nicolaus-Copernicus University in Torun, Poland.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Print
  • Digg
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Technorati
  • email
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

© Elements: Environmental Health Intelligence