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Why You Should Try to Avoid Shift Work and Irregular Sleep

According to a study published in the August 1, 2007 issue of the journal Sleep, rotating shift workers have significantly lower levels of serotonin (precursor to melatonin) than people who work regular day shifts. A total of 683 men of European ancestry were evaluated for this study; 437 were day workers, and 246 were rotating shift workers.

Serotonin is a hormone that circulates throughout your body. It is also a neurotransmitter in your central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). A chronically low level of serotonin is associated with many health challenges, the most common of which are:

  • Poor quality sleep
  • Problems with body temperature regulation
  • Tendency to feel depressed and anxious
  • Poor ability to regulate anger and aggression
  • Sexual difficulties

The findings of this most recent study confirm the importance of maintaining a regular circadian rhythm by resting when you are tired, and striving to maintain a regular routine of sleeping.

If your current life circumstances do not allow for a regular sleeping routine, you should at least strive to acquire restful sleep whenever your schedule allows you to. Here are a few suggestions on how to accomplish this while working on a rotating shift schedule:

  1. Within your irregular sleep schedule, strive to maintain a steady routine of eating, getting cleaned up, spending time with loved ones, and taking care of necessary errands before going to sleep.

  2. When you must sleep while the sun is out, use a sleeping mask or dark and heavy curtains to provide a dark sleeping environment. A dark sleeping environment is important to your body's ability to produce serotonin.

  3. Do everything you can to minimize potential disruptions during sleep time, like turning the phone ringer off, posting a 'no solicitations' sign outside your home or apartment, and wearing earplugs.

For more information on this topic, including suggestions on how to support your health via high quality sleep, view the following articles:

Why You Should Sleep in Darkness

How Much Sleep Do You Really Need to Be Healthy?

Healthy Foods that Promote Deep Sleep

Nine Steps to Better Sleep

Study Abstract:


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I recently read a book called Ageless by S. Sommers. Many health professional testimonies within stated the importance of sleep hours as related to the moon and other influences. Melatonin is released only during 9-12 PM and no matter how many masks are worn,the body knows the time.

This is far more involved than this AND please read it yourself. There are many studies and data and many more factors.

Hello Dr. Kim. Love your newsletter! Great article about sleep. Its is so very sacred and will literally add years to your life. One thing I will add, and its just a hypothesis...I think that the quality of light when gets while one is awake is just as important,and affects the quality of sleep when is able to get. As we know, sunlight is extremely integral to a healthy body. If a good amount and quality of daily sunlight does help prime the body for producing melatonin and providing a good night's sleep, I suspect that light in the form of fluorescent and regular yellow bulb lights has a disastrous effect on the body and its immune system. Our body does process indoor light, and I can't fathom it thriving on such light. As a matter a fact, if one digs I wouldn't be surprised if there was a direct correlation between indoor lighting and insomnia, low immune system, cancer and other diseases. Authentic Full Spectrum Bulbs would be an improvement and a boon for every household. Just my 2 cents!
I Thank you for you Dr. Kim and take care.

I am a professional fire fighter and I have been on the job for 21 years. My schedule is: two ten hour day works (8am - 6pm) followed by two 14 hour night works (6pm - 8am), followed by four days off. After 21 years of this type of schedule I have developed sleep problems. Herbal formulas do not work. Prescription sleep aids are the only thing that will allow me to get a full eight hours of sleep. I try to only use them three times a week. Many police and fire fighters I have talked to with over fifteen years on the job have the same complaint. There is nothing I can do. It's the nature of the job. Thankfully, retirement for police and fire is 25 years. These jobs take a toll on our bodies. I have come to value my sleep.

Great Article!
It's really true, I've been a shift worker in the past and I know how tired I used to feel those days. We'd employee wellness forum in our company, and it suggested that, better quality of lighting in the company could improve the health, and performance of the employees. After a while, all the ordinary fluorescent tubes, were replaced by Viva-lite tubes. It brought a huge change in my mood, the eye strains and headaches which had been a part of my life, was kept at bay from then on. In my opinion, Better quality lighting is a must in companies which opts shift working.