Working the Late Shift? Learn How to Sleep Better

Working the Late Shift? Learn How to Sleep Better

Lee esto en EspañolGetting a good night’s sleep isn’t easy. It’s even harder if your sleep schedule isn’t typical. But there are steps you can take to make getting the rest you need easier.

Shift Work and Sleep

Sleep is important for everyone. It’s a big part of staying healthy. But getting enough good quality sleep can be hard if you work the night shift or a swing shift where your work schedule varies greatly.

And in our 24-hour society, many people work outside of normal work hours. Hospital staff, police officers, firefighters, health care workers, and those who work in manufacturing and transportation often have non-traditional work hours.

Health care workers, who often work late shifts or swing shifts, are having an especially tough time. A recent study found that both experienced and new shift workers are having even more trouble sleeping because of the added stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A main challenge of shift work is that it forces you to sleep against the clock, says the UCLA Sleep Disorders Centerleaving site icon Our bodies function according to several 24-hour cycles called circadian rhythms .The sleep-wake cycle is one of those cycles. These circadian rhythms are like messages that govern important body functions, including:

  • Body temperature
  • Alertness
  • Sleepiness
  • Hunger
  • Hormone levels

The lifestyle of a shift worker, and the lack of sleep it can spur, can lead to many problems, including:

  • Lack of attention and ability to concentrate
  • Delayed reaction times
  • Depression
  • Lower job productivity
  • Family discord
  • Safety concerns, like roadway and workplace accidents

A health problem called shift work disorder can cause serious physical and mental health problems, says the Sleep Foundationleaving site icon It can contribute to many issues, including:

  • Mood problems
  • Gastrointestinal, metabolic, reproductive, and heart and blood problems
  • Low testosterone, which can prompt low energy and low libido
  • Substance abuse, when people try to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs
What Can You Do to Get Better Sleep?

Shift workers often deal with fatigue and other issues that can be dangerous at work. There are steps you can take while at work to stay safe. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests that you:

  • Take short breaks every two hours during a shift.
  • Use any support aids on hand, such as sleeping rooms for naps and healthy snacks.
  • Look for signs of fatigue.
  • Have a work buddy so you can watch over and help each other.
  • Speak up when you need help.

Outside of work, these steps may help you get more sleep:

  • Plan your sleep schedule, and keep it the same when you can, even when you’re off work.
  • When working nights, try to shift your sleep so you wake up close to the start of the next shift, rather than going to sleep as soon as you get home. Or split your sleep so that you sleep for a few hours when you get home and then take a long nap later.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Try an eye mask or blackout curtains to keep it dark. If noise is an issue, see if earplugs, a fan, or a white noise machine or app helps.
  • Be sure to tell others in your household when you’ll be sleeping to help avoid disruptions.
  • Make a routine to help you unwind. Skip caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
  • Turn the ringer off on your phone. Avoid checking your phone if you wake up during your sleep time.
  • Take naps if you’re not getting enough sleep during your main sleep time.

No matter what hours you work, make sleep a priority. It helps your mind and body recharge so you can stay healthy.

Sources: Sleep Solutions for Shift Workersleaving site icon UPMC; Managing Fatigue During Times of Crisisleaving site icon National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2020; Circadian Rhythmleaving site icon Sleep Foundation, 2020; Shift Work Disorderleaving site icon Sleep Foundation, 2020; Why Do We Need Sleep, leaving site icon Sleep Foundation, 2021; Coping with Shift Work, leaving site icon UCLA Sleep Disorders Center