Today is World Sleep Day and I thought this would be a great opportunity to look at sleep and shift work, and the implications of one on the other.
Shift work is general described as working outside of normal hours, in particular, working during times when we would normally be expected to be asleep.
Firstly, shift work can result in you sleeping against your body’s natural clock. Everyone has an in-built biological rhythm which keeps you alert during daylight hours. Sleeping during the day makes it harder to drift off and get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Secondly, shift work often involves irregular schedules. Regular wake-up times produce hormones which act as signals for the body to sleep or stay awake. The more often you switch your schedule, the harder it is for your body to adjust.
Lastly, shift work means that you may be sleeping out of sync with everyone else. Staying asleep with the noises of daytime hustle and bustle around you can seem impossible. Family and personal relationships may also mean that sleep is not a priority.
Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you are still awake after 20 minutes, get up and do something calming, such as read a book, draw or write in a journal.
Avoid blue light. The short-wave blue light from computers, TV and phone screen supresses the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. It is important to avoid screen time for two hours before bed.
Try and set a schedule. Establishing a regular sleep schedule every day of the week can help to set your ‘biological clock’. Don’t lie in more than an hour, even on days off.
It is important that you use your bed only for sleep (and sex). If your body learns to associate your bed with sleep, you’ll start to feel tired as soon as you lie down. Using your phone, watching TV or sending emails in bed can have the opposite effect.
Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, which can affect your ability to fall asleep and the quality of your sleep, even if they’re used earlier in the day. Caffeine can stay in the body for up to 12 hours, and even decaf coffee contain some caffeine.
Participating in exercising and health eating can lead to better sleep. Avoid strenuous exercise and greasy or heavy food for two hours before going to bed.
On average night shift workers sleep for 2 hours less than the average adult. This sleep debt puts shift workers at more risks of accidents and increases long term health risks, such as increasing the risk of strokes, diabetes and dementia, as well as stress and depression.
There are several things which can be done to limit the impact of working nights on your sleep.
Before night shift:
Staying alert during work:
After night shift:
Regardless of when your shift is, either day or night, remember that sleep can be flexible, and it is important to find a pattern that suits you.