Working jobs with fluctuating schedules, known as shift work, can have serious health repercussions for you. Many of these health concerns also increase your risk for developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a type of sleep apnea that occurs when soft tissue in your mouth and throat obstruct your airway at night. These apneas cause you to wake up multiple times throughout the night. Your body depends on a consistent schedule. Long-term shift work employment throws your body’s natural rhythm out of sync and can cause you to develop poor health habits to compensate.
Shift Work Changes Your Sleep Patterns
Shift work prevents your body from developing a consistent sleep pattern. Some days, you might start work at 7:00 A.M, while other days, you don’t go in until noon, and work until 9:00 P.M. An inconsistent schedule such as this can disrupt your body’s internal circadian biological clocks. The circadian rhythm, observable in animals and plants alike, allows our body regulates sleepiness levels throughout the day. As a result, you will feel more alert during certain hours of the day, and drowsier during other times (especially around 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M.).
Disruptions in this rhythm can cause you to feel drowsier throughout the day and decreases your alertness. Changes in your circadian rhythm can also cause your sleep cycle to become more irregular, increasing the amount of time spent awake, and decreasing the amount of time spent in deep, restful slumber. For sufferers of sleep apnea, who already lose valuable rest throughout the night, these additional factors can lead to greater levels of sleep deprivation. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation from other factors can also increase the number of breathing disruptions caused by sleep apnea.
Shift work can also cause you to gain weight. According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland, shift workers are more likely to consume higher fat foods than people with a consistent schedule. Part of the blame for increased fat intake falls on the need to quickly grab a meal or snack that accommodates your schedule. Ready-to-eat meals and snacks usually contain high amounts of fat. Another reason behind this increased fat consumption is that your body tries to compensate for your increased fatigue with high-energy food.
Unfortunately, these eating habits can lead to weight gain. Fat deposited in your neck can cause OSA. When you lay down at night, fatty tissue in your neck presses down on your throat, obstructing your airway.
Increased Health Risks and Treatment
Sleep deprivation from both OSA and shift work have been linked with life-threatening health conditions, including diabetes, depression, and heart disease. Suffering from sleep apnea and working on a fluctuating schedule can significantly increase your risk of developing these conditions.
If you experience excessive daytime sleepiness or recurring headaches you might benefit from a sleep study to find out if your symptoms are related to OSA. After a positive diagnosis, we will create a treatment plan to improve your nightly rest. Many OSA patients benefit from orthotic devices, which open your airway at night. For other forms of sleep apnea, we can prescribe a continuous positive airway (CPAP) machine to provide you with oxygen through the night.
For more information about how sleep apnea treatment can protect your physical health, please call (407) 834-6446 to set up an appointment with Orlando sleep dentist, Dr. Michael L. Weinstock today.