As any police officer, firefighter, factory worker, doctor, nurse or paramedic will tell you, shift patterns can be hard to cope with when it comes to getting enough sleep. Indeed, anyone who works shifts or late at night runs the risk of significant sleep disorders that can wreak havoc on your home life, not to mention your health.
The negative impacts of lack of sleep include problems with memory and the ability to focus. Many people also feel groggy, depressed or irritable which can have a big effect on the way you do your job. Researchers have also found that people who work night or rotating shifts appear to be at more risk of developing insulin resistance, ulcers, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
To help, we’ve put together some top tips that may help you achieve more refreshing sleep.
Try not to work a number of night shifts in a row. A lack of sleep tends to have a cumulative effect so avoid too many consecutive night shifts if possible. Recovery is likely to be quicker if you have some time off in between.
Promote alertness by keeping your workplace brightly lit. Expose yourself to as much bright light as possible. This can be done using lamps, special light boxes and visors developed for people with circadian rhythm-related sleep issues. Your body’s circadian rhythm is what tells you when to sleep and when to be awake, like an internal clock. They’re controlled by an area of the brain which is influenced by light. It is though that by being exposed to bright light when your “day” starts, you can help your body’s internal clock to adjust.
Drink less caffeine. Having a cup of coffee at the start of your shift will help you feel less sleepy and more alert. But make sure you don’t have too much caffeine later in the shift though, or you may find you can’t sleep when you return home.
Turn off your phone during your sleep hours. Not everyone will know you work shifts and that you’re asleep during the day. The shrill ring of your phone is not only going to wake you up but it will likely take you a while to settle down again afterwards.
Avoid bright light on the way home from work. By doing this you’ll make it easier for you to nod off once you get to bed. Try wearing sunglasses to protect yourself from sunlight and head straight home rather than stopping off somewhere first.
As with all things sleep, everyone is different and what works for you may not work for someone else. But if your shift work is causing you struggle, it’s well worth having a chat with both your line manager and your GP to explore other solutions.