Shift Work May Affect Sleep Patterns In Offshore Workers
May 31, 2013

Shift Work May Affect Sleep Patterns In Offshore Workers

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Working long and late shifts on an offshore oil rig can affect your circadian rhythm, creating sleep troubles, says a new study from the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway.

While this seems like commonly understood logic, researcher Siri Waage with the UiB´s Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care says that the long hours and late nights don´t have the same effect on oil workers on dry land. She studied offshore roughnecks who worked both day and night shifts and found that while both sets of workers put in the same amount of time each day, being out in the ocean for two weeks at a time reduces sleep quality and even leads to insomnia.

While it may have been assumed that working swing shifts (or overnight shifts) alone may have been enough to cause a rise in insomnia, Waage´s study finds that it may simply be the effects of the sea which disrupt the circadian rhythm.

Each of the 200 workers in the study put in 12 hours a day during 14 day stints while out on the North Sea. Waage notes that while working offshore has been found to influence sleep patterns, her study found that at the end of a two-week cycle both sets of workers had similar medical complaints which included insomnia. All told, her research found that some 23 percent of all offshore workers on the North Sea suffer from a condition known as Shift Work Disorder (SWD).

According to WebMD, SWD occurs when workers have late-night or rotating shifts. As light and dark are cues for your body to be awake and fall asleep, being exposed to light for extended periods of time or suddenly switching when the light and dark times occur can jostle the circadian rhythm. While those who work nights are most likely to experience the effects of SWD, those who start work early in the morning, say 4 a.m. for example, are also susceptible to insomnia from the disorder. Those who experience SWD may have trouble staying awake during the day or being alert at work. When it is time to sleep, those with SWD may find it hard to get the rest they need.

In 2011, Waage wrote her doctoral thesis on the effects of oil work on roughnecks in the field and offshore. That paper, entitled "Shift work, sleep and health in the petroleum offshore industry," examined not only the sleep habits but the overall health of workers in the petroleum industry.

While she has found that many offshore workers experience the effects of SWD while at sea, the same workers on land can tolerate the long hours and late shifts better. In essence, there´s something about the sea which tends to disrupt a hard working person´s sleep habits, and as of now, the reason why is unknown.