Shift Work & Sleep

Shift Work & Sleep


Literally working around the clock & its consequences

We’re all tethered to the office with our smart stupid phones these days – but shift workers have it even worse. A shift worker performs their entire job outside of the “normal” business hours of 9 to 5 – rather than just being available via email or phone.  Shift work has become an increasingly more common to accommodate the demands of 24-7 society. While these odd-hour jobs help increase productivity for companies, it’s at the cost of the workers’ sleep patterns and overall health.

Obviously this isn’t good…

Sleep against the clock

Humans are hard-wired to sleep by our exposure – or lack of exposure – to sunlight. Our internal clock hums along smoothly until we try to force it to change, as in the case of shiftwork. In most adults, circadian rhythms cause your level of sleepiness to peak from about midnight to 7 am – as the sun begins to sink in the sky, so does our energy. But because shift workers gear up at night, they spend their wake-times feeling sleep-deprived and sluggish. Not only is it challenging to stay awake while everyone else is sleeping, it’s hard to fall asleep when the sun is rising in the sky. On average, shift workers sleep 2 to 4 hours less than everyone else. 

Shift work sleep disorder

According to the International Classifications of Sleep Disorders, shift work sleep disorder is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Circadian rhythm refers to the 24 hour rhythmic output of the human biological clock. The main complaint for people with shift work sleep disorder is excessive sleepiness. Other symptoms include insomnia, disrupted sleep schedules, reduced performance, difficulties with personal relationships and irritability/depressed mood. 

6 tips for coping with shift work

Here are some tips for coping with shift work:

  • Sleep environment – Be sure your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. Invest in light blocking shades and/or ear plugs.
  • Monitor your food and caffeine intake – Don’t eat a large meal or consume caffeine at least 5 hours before you need to go to sleep.
  • Avoid stimulating activities – If you have trouble falling asleep, don’t play video games or exercise prior to bed time. Instead, try creating a sleep spa to help you unwind.
  • Sleep schedule – Honor your body’s need for habit and go to bed the same time every day. Even if you can’t sleep right away, reading quietly will help train your brain.
  • Plan ahead how you’ll get home – If you’re exhausted after your shift, do not drive. Take public transportation or call for a ride.
  • Take breaks – Taking short breaks on the job can help maintain alertness. Conversations with coworkers or a short stroll around the office can help prevent sleepiness.

Sadly, shiftwork isn’t going anywhere. The effects of sleep deprivation, while not avoidable, can be reduced with some careful planning. Maintaining a semi-normal sleep schedule, eating healthy and exercising when possible can help you cope with the effects. Good luck!