Healthy Sleep and Shift Work Back »

Not everyone has a work schedule that resembles a traditional work day. In fact, 15 million Americans work outside the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or work swing shifts rotating between day, evening, or night shifts. With working such odd hours comes a difficult sleep schedule.

Sleep Recommendations

For adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 7-9 hours of sleep. On average, individuals with a non-traditional work schedule get two to four hours less sleep than the recommended guidelines. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can have a negative impact on attention, concentration, reaction time, memory, and mood. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports shift workers are more likely to be injured on the job, with 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. being the most likely time for accidents. In addition, these individuals are more likely to suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic health problems.

Achieving Restful Sleep

Below are tips on how to overcome a few common barriers that may impact your ability to achieve restful sleep when working a non-traditional work schedule.

  • Napping: Take a nap prior to reporting for a night shift! A nap of 90 minutes is best as it allows you to complete a sleep cycle.
  • Eating Well: Eat three regular meals spaced evenly over the course of your time awake. Meal times serve as time cues to your internal clock and can help your body know when to make you sleepy.
  • Exercise: The timing of exercise is important so that you are not too tired to work. Twenty minutes of aerobic exercise before work (such as a brisk walk, bike ride, jog, or swim) is enough to activate the body to produce energy, while keeping the heart in shape. Morning exercise is good for day shifts, afternoon exercise is good for evening shifts, and early evening exercise is good for those going on a night shift.
  • Sleep hygiene: You can sleep better by following the practices of good sleep hygiene before getting into bead (wash face, brush teeth, comb hair).
  • Home environment: Talk to others in your home about your sleep schedule while on shift. Prompt them to reduce the level of noise and light in the home while you are sleeping.
  • Limit your screen time: Avoid screens (television, phone, computer, iPad, tablet) one hour before going to bed. The light emitted from screens signals your brain to stay awake.
  • Block out light and noise: Darken and sound-proof your room as much as possible. Invest in light-proof curtains and blinds, as well as a “white noise” machine. This could be as simple as a fan.

In Summary

Working non-traditional hours is hard. Take the extra steps to take care of yourself to ensure a more restful sleep for a safer work environment, and a healthier you! Learn more about healthy sleep and shift work on the CDC website!

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