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Shift Work: Shift Sleep

Almost 15 million workers are considered shift workers in America. 1 Shift work is known as working long shifts with little time off, usually including a night shift or rotating shifts. While this type of work increases productivity, it has the potential to reap havoc on the sleep patterns of those affected. The most common type of shift work is known as the “seven swing” in which there are seven days of work with an eight-hour morning shift followed by two days of rest. 2 Following the rest the individual will work another seven days with eight-hour night shifts and continuing the pattern with different shifts. 1 This type of schedule will essentially be like traveling and never being on a consistent sleep schedule. This causes these workers to exhibit the symptoms of jet lag on a nearly consistent basis.

Shift work is common for doctors, nurses, commercial drivers and law enforcement officials. Shift workers typically do 400 more hours of work a year than individuals with a typical 40-hour work week.  2

Because shift-workers are never on a consistent schedule, they typically have a hard time going to sleep and staying awake at work because their circadian rhythm is irregular. The circadian rhythm is regulated by the cycles of light and dark throughout the day. 3 The occasional weekend off tends to leave the worker with no other choice than to attempt to catch up on sleep, which leads to neglect of family, friends and other aspects of life important to the individual. Shift workers often use alcohol to help fall asleep and cigarettes and caffeine to help stay awake. 2 These techniques only serve to make sleeping more difficult.

Because of the intense stressors on the lives of shift workers, 70 percent report having difficulty falling asleep and average one to two hours less sleep than typical 40-hour a week workers. 2

How Shift Workers Can Improve Sleep

  • Take a nap two hours before your shift begins to help make up for lost sleep.
  • Stay physically fit and exercise as regularly as possible to help with fatigue.
  • Avoid caffeine in the last hour of a work shift.
  • Eat a snack at the same time each day during a shift to establish a routine.
  • Avoid alcohol as a means to induce sleep.
  • Try to prepare for your upcoming sleep schedule on your days off by staying up and sleeping later to prepare for an evening shift, for example.
  • Wake up at the same time every day during your work week and eat regular meals.

Shift work has proven to be very harmful to workers’ personal lives and sleep patterns. Though this productive concept of work allows more time to be spent on a job, it leaves workers exhausted and unable to focus on tasks. Taking simple steps to try to avoid complete fatigue and related accidents because of lack of focus. Sleep remains the most important aspect in keeping the body healthy and keeping healthy sleep habits is vital to living a fulfilled life.


1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention—Work Schedules: Shift Work and Long Work Hours;

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3.  WebMD—Shift Work Sleep Disorder;

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Why Do We Yawn?

A “yawn” as defined by is said to be “to open the mouth somewhat involuntarily with a prolonged, deep inhalation and sighing or heavy exhalation, as from drowsiness or boredom.” The word yawn is derived from the Old English word meaning to gape or open wide. The average human yawns 240,000 times in a lifetime and the average yawn lasts about six seconds. 1

Many believe that a yawn is in response to excess carbon dioxide or shortage of oxygen in the lungs. This notion is false and probably assumed because of the gasp that takes place at the end of yawns.

While yawns are typically seen as a comical occurrence, it is now known that excessive yawning can signify a brain tumor, hemorrhages, opiate withdrawal, chorea, encephalitis and other internal issues. 2

Stretching is usually accompanied by a yawn; however, they are not dependent on each other. Also, the face that is formed when yawning stretches the face and is possibly one of the reasons that yawns are so satisfying. On a scale from one to 10 (10 being most satisfying), the average rating was 8.5. 2

All vertebrate animals yawn in the same fashion as humans. Also, yawning is not exclusive to mammals. Crocodiles, sharks, snakes and birds all yawn. 1 The purpose of their yawning is unknown as well.

Reading about yawning stimulates yawns, similarly to seeing someone yawn makes you have to desire to yawn. (I’ve yawned about 30 times while writing this). The yawn alone is not what is contagious. In fact, the entire facial stretch that accompanies the yawn causes others to feel the need to replicate the face. Therefore, even when you cover your mouth, the “yawn face” is still present in the eyes and can cause others to yawn. Contagious yawning is thought to be an ancient way of communicating bedtime. 2

Recent studies have shown that yawning may not be linked to sleepiness or boredom whatsoever, and may be needed in order to cool the brain. 3 This theory is generated from medical observations such as epileptics yawning excessively before a seizure. Now yawning can be used as a signal to greater problems, especially with diseases or disorders that affect the brain’s temperature. Additionally, some animals that do not sweat such as dogs and pigs may use yawning to cool their bodies, even if just by a fraction of a degree. 2

While most aspects of yawning are still a mystery, it is clear that if you are yawning very often you are likely not getting enough sleep or extremely bored. Though many theories are continuously being developed, no proven function has been identified.


1. WebMD—What’s in a Yawn?

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3. USA Today—Yawning may cool brain when needed;