Night shift workers may find it tough getting to sleep during the day after working at night. I was watching a program recently on sleep and in it a couple who worked night shift were having problems sleeping and asked an expert for help. The expert had a number of tips to help them and their sleep improved.
I don’t know about you but when my sleep schedule is messed up or I lack sleep it has consequences to how I function. When night shift workers suffer from sleep deprivation, this can also lead to serious consequences as some night shift workers will be doing jobs such as fire fighting, police, doctors and nurses.
Shift work really does mess with the dials of your sleep pattern and your body’s internal body clock. The brain gets mixed signals for when it should be awake and when it should be sleeping. There is agreement between sleep researchers that there are things night shift workers can do to help get the sleep they need. Below I’ve listed a number of strategies that I hope will help you.
Just something to be mindful of… some night shift workers cope very well with shift work and some people don’t. What is possible is to alter how we deal with it and do things that will help our bodies adapt to the night shift work and at the same time allow you to have a good sleep so you can recover and reduce health risks from night shift working.
Driving to and from work
Consideration should be given to how you get to and from work. Of course you may drive but after a night shift it can be a bit risky especially when you feel tired so you could opt for a few strategies to help you cope and make it safer for you:
- If you have the option and it’s easy to use then consider using public transport instead of driving, you could also opt for a taxi but that may be too expensive but you could consider sharing the costs with a colleague;
- When you finish your shift, do some stretches and a bit of exercise if you are driving, this could be star jumps or squats, something that will get your heart going and adrenaline pumping as this will keep you more alert, try and do this before you start your journey;
- As I’ve mentioned sharing a taxi, you could also car share with a colleague it would also save on petrol costs which is an additional bonus;
- Drive with the window open slightly or the cool air on to keeep you more alert;
- Try not to rush home, especially on the roads, take your time and try to stay calm and relaxed;
- If you do feel sleepy, stop driving and rest until you feel you are ready to continue and make use of having a caffeine drink in the car for the times you need it.
Identify a suitable sleep schedule for night shift workers
On average adults need around 7 to 8 hours sleep each night. Of course some need more and some less depending on age. However, when you work night shifts it’s important to try and get the same amount of sleep. A good way of doing this is to record your sleep patterns in a sleep diary. When you know what problems you have with sleep then you can adopt strategies to help you cope. Below I have listed some things you can try to see if they make any difference to your sleep schedule:
- To see what works for you if you work a regular shift pattern, try and go to bed at different times after you finish your shift to see what is best for you, for example go to bed as soon as you arrive back from your shift, stay up longer and go to bed a little later after you arrive back from your shift, see what works best for you;
- Try having a short sleep before the start of your first night shift, if you can’t sleep then just rest;
- If you work regular night shifts try and stick to the same schedule when you are not working nights, this may seem extreme but it could help you establish a good sleeping schedule.
Once you have established the best sleeping pattern for you then stick with it and you should have established a sleep pattern which is right for you.
Make the environment favorable for sleeping
There is little doubt that sleep problems and tiredness exist for a lot of shift workers That is why it is important to get as much sleep and rest as you can and as you would if you were not working at night. The problem with sleeping during the day is that it is usually lighter, shorter and very poor quality. Therefore it is important to “trick” your body in to thinking it is night time so you can get a good nights’s sleep. Below I have listed some things you can do to make your environment more favorable for sleeping during the day:
- Make sure you sleep in your bed in your bedroom;
- Don’t be distracted by phones or watching TV
- Use blackout curtains or blinds to keep the daylight out
- Use an eye mask to keep any other light out
- Make sure the room is cool and not too warm, you could do this by leaving your window ajar
- Consider using ear plugs to keep the daytime noise to a minimum
- Ensure your family know not to disturb you
- Let your neighbors know you work nights so they can avoid any noise during the day too especially when you are sleeping
- discuss your work pattern with close neighbours and ask them to try and avoid noisy activities during your sleep time.
Techniques to promote sleep for night shift workers
Routine is very important when it comes to promoting a good sleep after a night shift, try to stick to a regular routine but also do things that will help promote sleep that you might normally do when you are not working nights:
- Take regular exercise, this will keep your body fit and will help you go to sleep when you have finished your shift although don’t do anything too vigorous!
- Read a book or take a hot bath before bed.
- Stick to herbal teas and avoid any energy drinks just before you are wanting to go to sleep.
- Don’t go to bed hungry but don’t eat too many carbs, instead stick to a protein meal with fish or meat – also avoid any spicy foods as this can impact on the quality of your sleep.
What can be a problem for shift workers and getting a good sleep is what you eat and when you eat it! Did you know that digestive problems are common in those who work night shift? This can also have an impact on your sleep if you have any kind of digestive problem it could keep you awake. The key here is to plan in advance and below I’ve made some suggestions for you.
- Keep your meals light and at regular intervals, rather than one large heavy meal.
- Choose foods that are easy to digest such as protein, vegetables and whole grain rice and pasta.
- Keep your spicy foods for your days of. Spicy foods can impact on your digestive system and could disturb your sleep.
- For snacking try and stick to fruit and vegetables for your snacks when working night shifts as your energy levels shouldn’t sip so much.
- Drink plenty of water when working night shift but also reduce this 2 hours before you are due to go to sleep so you don’t waken up needing to go to the bathroom.
Physical fitness and a healthier lifestyle if you are a night shift worker
An unhealthy lifestyle can impact upon us all in terms of sleep disorders, even more so if you are a shift worker. A healthy diet, regular eating and drinking plenty of water as well as staying active will help improve the quality of your sleep and your well-being too.
- Stay active by walking as much as you can. If you need help with walking as part of your every day routine I can highly recommend going to Walking Body & Mind to read up on it. as little as 10 minutes can help you keep fit and healthy.
- Eat healthy balanced meals which are high in protein and low in fat.
- Give up smoking or cut down if you can.
- Reduce the amount of alcohol you take.
Social interaction for night shift workers
Working on shifts can be difficult for your family and your friends as they may not see you a lot. It can also feel isolating for you too so it’s important to stay connected to them. Below I’ve listed some ideas to help you:
- It’s good to talk! Talk to your family and your friends about your work and the schedules you undertake with shift work. Talk to them about the goods points but also the challenges with working shifts, they are more likely to understand and appreciate what you are going through when they know what is happening.
- Give your family and friends advance notice of your shift pattern so that if they are planning any events it can be done around your schedule so you don’t miss out!
- Make the most of the time you have when you are not on working, organize to go out for meals, go to the cinema etc.
- If you have house chores to do, plan them around your wake time and not your sleep time! The dusting will still be there after you have had your rest!
- Social activities with your colleagues that work similar shifts is a great idea so you can share social time together.
Need to improve your alertness during your night shift?
It can be tough staying alert on night shifts and this can hamper your work performance. It may also impact on your own personal health and safety. Below I’ve listed some things you can do to stay alter during your night shift.
- Keep any lights on in work and make sure they are either bright or they have day light bulbs.
- Take regular short breaks during your shift
- Wear a fitbit and get notified every 60 minutes to do 250 steps – exercise will keep you alert.
- Keep in contact with co-workers to talk about work and to spure each other on.
Other tips to help you cope with night shift
Give your body a three-day warning
A good tip if you are heading for a night shift is to give your body a 3 day warning by changing your sleep schedule in advance. For example if your normal shift was 5pm to 1am and you are about to move to a 11pm to a 7am then postpone your bedtime to 5am and sleep for 8 hours on the first of the 3 day warning. Day two your bedtime should be 7am for 8 hours and on day four you will be ready for your new shift. When you finish you will sleep from 9am for 8 hours taking you up to 5pm, you will then be ready for your 11pm shift.
Learn to say no
Think twice about doing things that will impact upon your sleep. Even if you really do want to go out with family or friends. Shift work can really impact on sleep big time so learning to say no will help your body in the long run!
How to recover between shifts
Being fit and healthy will help you recover between your shifts and help with sleep too. Your body will be better able to cope with any changes in the body clock.
If you have moved on to days then still stick to the good sleep habits you have built up and remember if you have to get up for work in the morning when it is dark you can opt for a light alarm clock which will mimic natural light and this will help you waken.
I hope these tips help you with your night shifts.
Happy dreaming – whatever time you go to bed!