Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Shift Work Disorder (SWSD) sabotages not only sleep but weight loss too


In this blog on how I lost 100 pounds (without drugs or gastric bypass bariatric surgery), I explore many ways to lose weight and also many links to obesity. From anxiety to Covid 19 and low self-esteem to antidepressants (especially SSRI) there's a lot that goes into it. One link that may surprise you is SWSD or Shift Work Disorder. 

My husband has worked nights (third shift) or afternoon-late evening (second shift) all of our 35 years of marriage. That nocturnal schedule alone messes with biorhythms and causes Shift Work Disorder. But then factor in this swing shift he's (we've) been on for the last five years and SWSD symptoms are off the charts. And add to that,  it's a 12 hour (not traditional 8 hour) night, 5 pm to 5 am.  

How does swing shift cause SWSD? Swing shift means 2 days on, 3 off and 2 on 3 off, 2 on, etc. The schedule rotates or swings back and forth each week with him having Monday off one week and working the next, for example. And he has worked every Saturday for 5 years, either till 5 am (having to sleep a good part of Saturday) or going in at 5 pm and having to sleep most of the day to gear up for the 12 hour night. 

It's hard enough trying to sleep days when humans are diurnal. But sleep disorder really ramp up when, on days off he tries to follow a normal day schedule. We end up staying up late at night because he can't fall asleep at a normal time and has to swing back to nights in a day or two anyway. I'm dealing with shift work sleep disorder too because I stay up with him (so we can actually see each other and do things together) but then work during the day. And I have other sleep disorder issues: arthritis, sleep paralysis, OSA or obstructive sleep apnea and a form of PTSD (traumatic stress disorder) that manifests in sleep disrupted by on-going nightmares. 

To say that our lifestyle is all kinds of dysfunctional is an understatement. Besides insomnia and lack of sleep, disturbed biorhythms cause relationship problems, mood disorders, depression, lack of intimacy, anxiety, stress and anger management. Social life is non-existent. We can't get involved with group activities, kids functions or even go to church regularly. It magnifies all health issues. Even eating habits are affected from eating late at night or at weird times. I've developed digestive problems which my physician is treating as an ulcer. I even suspect that our crazy schedules impacted my later pregnancies and were in part responsible for my two stillbirths. 

Trying to lose weight is super challenging because we literally can't follow the rules on eating such as not after 6 pm. That's when husband has to be awake! He eats breakfast at 3:30 pm, lunch around 10 pm and dinner whenever or never. Also, the weight loss rule about not eating one big meal doesn't work because he doesn't have time to eat several small meals. 

And then there's the comfort eating from being lonely and on opposite schedules from most everyone else. And we're always behind the 8-ball trying to stay awake when the world is asleep and asleep when the world is awake. And exercise is challenging on the night shift.  It's no wonder people with SWSD tend to have more trouble with obesity.  

And this doesn't even begin to address the unfair playing field of nocturnal (second and third shift) vs. diurnal workers. Diurnals sometimes have a hard time understanding why a nocturnal sleeps "so late" in the day. Some preen that they are "early risers" (meaning they get up at 5 am). That's impossible for nocturnals who are just getting out of work. They can't understand why we're "so lazy." But I'd like to see how raring to go they are after having to get up at midnight, go for 18 hours and then flip-flop to 5 am every few days. 

Diurnals also think nothing of making racket during a nocturnals sleep day. Yet if we started up a chainsaw at 2 am, it would be a different story. Anyone who thinks I'm paranoid has obviously never had to live this kind of life. Or they'd see that world completely disregards the third shifter. That's why suicide rates are 25 to 50 % higher. Sad but true. 

We'd love nothing more than to be able to live a more normal life. It's taken its toll. But job opportunities in many industries are almost all second and third shift and a scary lot of them are 12 hour swing shift schedules. 

So this post got a lot bigger than just weight loss and shift work disorder. But that's what I'm finding on this path, how interconnected the aspects of our lives are. To understand health, I'm de-compartmentalizing. Instead of boxing things into a small screen I'm looking at the big picture and the more I do that the more I see how big it is. 

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more on how I lost 100 pounds and a lot of other baggage.