Strategies for Sleeping for Shift Workers


Do you sometimes work at times other than the usual “nine to five” workday? If so, you are among the millions of shift workers in America. You may work while most people are asleep and try to sleep when the rest of the world is awake.

Shift workers perform critical functions in hospitals, police and emergency personnel, and in transportation and manufacturing industries.

In addition, they meet the demand for “around-the-clock” service in the age of global interaction. More than 22 million Americans are shift workers, and that number is growing by 3% each year!

…And Sleep

Unfortunately,  it is unavoidable for most shift workers to stop snoring while sleeping as they do not get enough rest on a daily basis. When they have shifts during the night (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.), the worker is struggling with the natural waking-asleep cycle. It can be difficult to be alert during the night and also to fall asleep and stay asleep during the day. Night workers sleep less than day workers and get less rest when they sleep.

Sleep is more than “beauty rest” for the body; it helps restore and rejuvenate the brain and organ systems to function properly. Chronic lack of sleep damages a person’s health, safety at work, job performance, memory and mood.

Sleep and the Circadian Clock

Sleep is necessary for all animals – even plants seem to have periods of rest. The human body naturally follows a 24-hour cycle of waking and sleeping that is regulated by an internal circadian clock. In effect, the circadian clock is related to the succession in nature of light and darkness.

The clock regulates cycles in body temperature, hormones, heart rate and other body functions. For humans the desire to sleep is strongest between midnight and six o’clock in the morning. Many people are alert in the morning with a natural decrease in mid-afternoon.

It is difficult to reset the internal circadian clock. Not surprisingly, 10 to 20%

of night shift workers report falling asleep on the job, usually during the second half of the shift. This is why shift workers who work all night may have difficulty sleeping during the day even if they feel tired.

When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

According to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation, 65% of people report that they don’t get enough sleep (most adults need eight hours). When they lack sleep, people think and move more slowly, make more mistakes and have difficulty remembering things.

These negative effects lead to lower productivity on the job and can cause accidents. The financial loss to U.S. businesses is estimated to be at least $18 billion each year! Lack of sleep is associated with irritability, impatience, anxiety and depression. These problems can disrupt work and family relationships, disrupt social activities, and cause unnecessary suffering.

Shift workers experience more stomach problems (especially heartburn and indigestion), menstrual irregularities, colds, flu, and weight gain than day workers. There is also more chance of heart problems along with high blood pressure. The risk of occupational and motor vehicle accidents increases for tired workers especially when driving to and from work.

Getting Ready for Sleep

There are several steps that a shift worker can take to achieve sleep and stay asleep (see Tip Sheet). The key is to make sleep a priority! Set the stage for sleep even if it’s full daylight outside. Prepare your body and mind for sleep. Wear dark glasses that cover you well on your way home from work if you are on the night shift to prevent morning light from setting off your internal “daylight” clock.

Follow bedtime rituals and try to maintain the same sleep schedule – even on weekends. Go to bed as soon as possible after work. At home, ask your family and friends to help you create a quiet and peaceful environment during your sleeping hours. Ask family members to use headphones to listen to music or watch TV.

Don’t vacuum, wash dishes, or play noisy games during your bedtime. Post a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the front door so that delivery people and friends do not knock or ring. Schedule home repairs after your bedtime.

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