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  • Megan Zamora

What Causes Night Shift Depression for Virginia Workers?

Night Shift Depression

Night shift depression is a symptom of working late hours that conflicts with the typical human sleep-wake cycle. This change makes it difficult to sleep during the day and feel awake and alert at nighttime since our bodies were designed to be awake when it's daylight out and sleep when it's dark out.

In addition to feeling tired or foggy, someone working the night shift will miss out on the regular daytime activities others are doing, like shopping, attending appointments, or hanging out with friends. The inability to do these everyday things at normal times adds to the depression and makes the feelings of sadness, loneliness, or despair more severe. What's worse, the loss of sleep can decrease the ability to manage stress and depression. And without the ability to turn our brains off due to worry and anxiety, we have a more difficult time falling to sleep.


As people lose sleep, they're understandably eager to find a solution. After all, sleep is so vital to each of our daily functions. People will often self-medicate to resolve their sleep issues. A popular self-medication tool is alcohol, which interferes with sleep maintenance and leads to further struggles with depression.

With the same goal as alcohol consumption, the sleep-deprived will sometimes turn to other drugs such as over-the-counter sleep aids or marijuana. And while some may find something that resembles relief, the core underlying problem is left untreated — think of it like putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole.

Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythm is the body's natural system of managing the sleep-wake cycle. This is commonly referred to as the body’s natural clock; wake up with the sun and sleep when it gets dark outside. This is partly due to the production of the hormone melatonin that tells your body it is time to sleep. When a shift worker is awake at night and asleep during the day, their body isn’t making the same amount of melatonin someone with a traditional sleep-wake cycle might make. Without this sleep-inducing hormone, the body has a difficult time finding rest.

Common Signs of Depression from Working Night Shifts

There are several commonly occurring signs that a person is suffering from night shift depression. These symptoms can include everything from sleep disorders to changes in mood and problems socializing with others.

Some of the more prominent signs to watch out for are:

  • Insomnia

  • Low energy and motivation

  • Feelings of loneliness or isolation

  • Poor health and concerning medical conditions

  • Irritability

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Poor concentration

What To Do About Night Shift Depression

Depression caused by an imbalance in our circadian rhythm can be debilitating. There are several things you can do on your own to try and manage the symptoms to hopefully find relief.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene consists of bedtime rituals aimed at promoting good sleep habits. Avoiding TV 30 minutes before, reading a book in a low-light environment, and soothing nature sounds at a low volume can help the body relax and signal that it's time to sleep.

Make Time for Hobbies and Friends

Having a hobby like drawing or video games in moderation can help relieve the stress of shift work. Try reconnecting with friends and family for a group date or a night on the town. A long phone conversation or dinner date can ease the feeling of loneliness.

Exercise and Eat Better

Exercising gives us energy during our waking hours and can also help us fall asleep faster. It's also essential to eat in a way that doesn't hinder sleep, like avoiding caffeine, large meals, and sugar several hours before bed.

Practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy -Insomnia

This is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy designed to treat insomnia. Practicing CBT-i will allow for better understanding and improvement of sleep habits.

Note: While self-practicing CBT-i can be helpful on its own, it's not meant to replace the coaching process from a trained professional.

Mental Health Services for Virginia Night Shift Workers

Working the night shift can take a toll on your physical and mental health. While some strategies and lifestyle changes may make a significant difference to the quality of sleep you can get, sometimes the depression and insomnia can be too much to handle on your own.

If you feel like you’ve tried everything else, aren’t sure how to practice good sleep hygiene, or the depression is too much to handle on your own, contact us today for an evaluation and help get back on track.

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