6 Tips to Help Shift Workers Get Better Sleep

If you work outside the standard 9-5 workday schedule, then you are considered a shift worker. And you are not alone. Almost one-third of working Canadians and over 8.6 million U.S employees perform shift-work, and those numbers have continually been on the rise. So have the adverse effects on employees wellness, including an increase in conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and depression. The good news is that many of these conditions can be prevented. Today we are going to share six tips to help shift workers get better sleep.

The Impact of Shift Work on Employee Wellness

With so many people working outside the standard 9 to 5 workday, researchers are paying close attention to the impact that shift work has on an individual’s mental and physical wellness.

infographic shift workers better sleep

Many shift workers suffer from something known as Shift Worker Sleep Disorder. This is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder with symptoms that include insomnia, disrupted sleep schedules, reduced performance, and irritability/depression. Circadian rhythm (you may know it as your biological clock) controls reoccurring functions such as body temperature, alertness, and hormone secretion. When it is disrupted, it can throw all of these functions out of whack and have serious consequences.

Research has shown that shift workers have an increased risk of certain physical and mental issues including:

  • Elevated risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Elevated risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Elevated risk of breast cancer and potentially elevated risk of colon cancer
  • Elevated risk of gastrointestinal disorders
  • Elevated risk of mental health problems, including depression

Additionally, shift workers are at a higher risk for workplace accidents due to increased fatigue.

While there are pharmacological remedies that can help alleviate the symptoms of shift worker sleep disorder, there are also some behavioral changes can implement – the most effective being getting better sleep.

 

6 Tips to Help Shift Workers Get Better Sleep

Getting better sleep is one way to mitigate the harmful effects of shift work on health. Here are six tips you can use immediately to help get on a regular sleep schedule and get your circadian rhythm back in tune!

Maintain a Schedule

For your body to understand when it needs to be alert and when it can sleep, try to maintain the same sleep/wake schedule on your days off as you do on workdays.
sleep tip for shift workers

Avoid Rotating Shifts and Overtime

If possible, avoid rotating shifts. If you cannot, try to keep shift rotation in a clockwise pattern. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests asking your manager to schedule succeeding shifts so that they start later than the last one (i.e., if your previous shift was 3 pm to 11 pm, your next rotation should be to 11 pm to 7 am).

You also want to strongly consider accepting additional shifts for overtime or passing on vacation time. While the extra time may boost your income, that may not be enough to compensate the overall effects on your wellness.

Involve Your Family

involve your family to make shift work sleep easier

Shift work schedules can have a significant impact on your family life, so involve them as much as possible. Ensure that they understand your sleep schedule and limit any phone calls, visits or interruptions during this time so that you can sleep peacefully.

Control Your Intake of Light

Your circadian rhythm is controlled by a part of the brain that is influenced by light. Therefore, make sure your workspace is brightly lit to help you keep alert during work hours.

When you leave work, avoid bright light and sun by wearing a hat and sunglasses and head straight home. This will make it easier for you to fall asleep once you are ready to put your head on the pillow.

Use room darkening shades or curtains in your bedroom to block as much sunlight as possible when you are sleeping. Even if your eyes are closed, sunlight coming into your room will tell your brain it is daytime and affect your sleep.

shift worker tip - head outside when you wake up

When you wake up – head outside! The bright sunlight will trigger your brain that it is once again time to be alert. Take a walk and soak up some rays! You will not only keep your brain on track but also boost your mental wellness with the fresh air and exercise.

Limit Caffeine and Alcohol

shift worker better sleep tip - limit caffeine

A cup of coffee at the beginning of your work shift can help to promote alertness, but try to avoid caffeine later in your shift, so it does not affect your ability to fall asleep when you get home.

Additionally, while you might be craving a ‘night-cap’ when you get home, avoid alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a stimulant and can disrupt your sleep patterns.

Take a Power Nap

There will be times that no matter what you do, your body just needs some rest. So, take a power nap! Just make sure that you are not napping too long or too often!