Sleep Tips for Shift Workers
Whether you’re a doctor, factory worker, firefighter, nurse, office cleaner, paramedic, police officer, or work in a different industry which includes shift work, you could be at risk of shift work sleep disorder. If you work at night or constantly rotate shifts, you could be putting yourself at risk. An irregular work pattern can stop you getting the right amount of sleep that your body needs.
The traditional 9-5 worker might take a regular sleep pattern for granted, however, shift work is more common than you might think. An editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 20% of workers in industrialised nations are shift workers.
Although not everyone who carries out shift work has a shift work sleep disorder, a lot is at risk if you do not keep a regular sleep pattern. Those who suffer from shift work sleep disorder generally suffer from an increase in work accidents related to sleepiness than shift workers who do not suffer from the disorder.
Not only are shift workers at high risk of work-related accidents, they are also at risk of increased high risks. Thankfully there are some steps you can take to increase the quality of your sleep whilst working shifts.
Notify Friends and Family
It is important to ensure that your partner and family acknowledge the impact that shift work will have on you. You might have less time to carry out parental responsibilities and household chores, and your work routine will certainly impact the amount of time you and your partner spend together. It is also important to notify your immediate friends and family of your routine, therefore limiting their telephone calls to you during your hours of sleep.
Prepare to Sleep
If you have been notified of a change to your normal shift time, you should change your sleep schedule 3 days in advance. For example, if your usual 17:00 – 01:00 shift is moving to 23:00 – 07:00, you should transition your sleep schedule accordingly. On the first day of the transition, if your normal sleep schedule is 03:00 – 11:00, you should postpone your sleep until 05:00 – 13:00.
On the second day of your transition, you should postpone your bedtime until 07:00 – 15:00. On day 3 you would sleep from 08:00 – 16:00.
Your new shift pattern of 23:00 – 07:00 would start on the fourth day, on which you will also start your new sleep pattern of 09:00 – 17:00.
Keep a Schedule
If possible, you should try and maintain as much of a schedule as possible. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time, adjust your eating habits to suit your new sleep routine, etc. Maintaining a routine allows your body to understand when you need to be alert and when you can relax.
Limit the Shifts
If possible, try and avoid numerous night shifts in a row. Several nights in a row can lead to a build-up of sleep deprivation. Try and limit the number of night shifts you work as this can make it easier to recover from shift work sleep disorder.
Increase the Light
Keep the workplace brightly lighted to promote alertness. If you’re on the night shift, bright light will trick your circadian rhythm to tell your body’s natural body clock to remain more alert. However, as the shift is winding down you should try and dim the lights around you. Although bright lights will keep you alert, it does so by suppressing the natural production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
Shorten the Commute
Try and avoid long commutes to-and-from work. Time spent on an extended commute is time detracted from sleeping.
Drink Caffeine at the Right Time
Caffeine at the start of a night shift will promote alertness, however, don’t drink caffeinated drinks towards the end of your shift as you may find it difficult to fall asleep when you are at home.