Working shifts is difficult. Waking and sleeping at irregular hours can become tiring and confusing for your body clock. You may find it difficult to get to sleep when you need to, or struggle to stay awake at odd hours.

Sleeping during the day

Naturally, sleeping during the day is difficult - no matter how tired you are! Make sure partners, children, roommates, and anyone else sharing your roof understands the importance of your designated sleep time. They should not wake you up unless there’s a true emergency.

Light and noise exposure may be other issues for sleeping during the day. Try drawing the shades or sleeping with an eye mask if your bedroom tends to be bright during the day. Earplugs and white noise machines can be effective at blocking outside sounds. Unless you are on call, consider turning your phone off while you sleep.

Rather than immediately going to bed, some shift workers prefer to stay up for a few hours after arriving home as one might do after a day at work on a traditional 9-5 schedule. This way, they can wake up closer to the time when they start their next night shift. For others, a split-nap schedule is more effective. This entails napping for a few hours after getting home in the morning and then sleeping for longer in the hours leading up to the next shift’s start time.

Before going to bed, consider a hot shower or bath, meditation, or another relaxing activity. Consuming alcohol before bed can lead to sleep disruptions. Some shift workers take melatonin supplements to fall asleep during the day, but you should consult with your doctor or another licensed physician before taking melatonin because it can have an impact on your sleep-wake rhythms. Try a few of these things and see what does or doesn't work for you.

Staying awake during shift work

While you are at work during an irregular shift, strategies to stay refreshed and alert may include:

  • Caffeine in moderation: Caffeine can provide an energy boost for shift workers, but it should be consumed carefully and in moderation. A cup of coffee or caffeinated soda is recommended at the beginning of your shift. The caffeine will usually take effect within 15-20 minutes. Moderate amounts of caffeine every one to two hours will be more effective than heavy amounts. You should avoid consuming caffeine within three to four hours of the time you plan to go to sleep.

  • Get the blood moving: If you have enough time during a scheduled break, consider a brief workout or a jog around your workplace. Even a small amount of exercise can provide an energy boost.

  • Take a nap: You can also snooze on your break if you’d rather sleep than exercise. A nap of 10-20 minutes is considered ideal because you won’t enter deep sleep and feel excessively groggy when it’s time to wake up.

  • Exercise caution: People who experience sleep problems due to shift work are at higher risk of on-the-job errors and accidents. The same is true of employees who are new to shift work, or those who are working shifts that are longer than usual.

  • Consider a post-work snooze: Drowsy driving accidents are another hazard associated with shift work. According to the most recent statistics, midnight to 6 am is one of the most dangerous periods of the day for drowsy driving. If your workplace does not have a room where you can nap undisturbed, you can try dozing for a few minutes in your car before leaving the property. If you begin to feel drowsy behind the wheel, pull over at the next available opportunity where you can park safely and nap for a few minutes.


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Article originally published by: Sleep Foundation

Image credit: Matheus Vinicius on Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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