Shiftwork and Sleep

DF SafetyHealth and Safety Tips

For individuals who work shiftwork, safety is imperative for your well-being. Shiftwork includes those who work non-traditional hours such as evenings, nights, or rotating shifts. Employees who work these hours can experience decreased alertness, disruptions to the body’s natural circadian rhythm, and mental and physical health. Today, let’s chat more about shiftwork and how you can help manage your sleep more effectively. 

The impact of shiftwork 

Shiftwork can impact many different aspects of an individual’s life. Alternating day, night, and afternoon shifts are common in many different industries including

  • industrial work 
  • customs and immigration 
  • mines 
  • healthcare 
  • emergency response – police, fire, ambulance 
  • hospitality – hotels, food service 
  • transportation services – trucking, airlines 

People who work in these types of roles are more susceptible to certain health issues, such as: 

  • disruption to one’s circadian rhythm (24-hour body cycle), 
  • sleep deprivation  
  • disorders of the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems 
  • make existing disorders worse 
  • disrupt family and social life 

“Working and sleeping during hours misaligned with natural light for extended periods of time is not likely to be healthy for you.”

Harvard Health Publishing 

Tips to help 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a shift worker can be challenging due to the irregular work hours and disrupted sleep patterns. However, there are some strategies you can consider: 

  • Prioritize strong sleep hygiene 

Developing good sleep hygiene is vital for shift workers. Healthy sleep hygiene includes a bedroom environment and daily routines that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep. To create a space that welcomes rest, try to establish a regular sleep schedule even on your days of to help regulate your body’s internal clock to doze off easier when you are ready to sleep.  

It can be more challenging to create an environment conducive to sleep during the daytime hours. Consider using blackout curtains, a white noise machine, earplugs, and an eye mask. If possible, choose a room in a quieter part of your home, where you are less likely to be disrupted by noises from other family members. Communicate with your family and friends about your sleep routine so they can plan accordingly as well.  

  • Incorporate good nutrition and exercise 

Working shift work can mean that you are eating at unusual hours of the day and night. Try to focus on eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, which support your health and energy levels. If possible, eat balanced meals or protein-packed snacks throughout your shift to help keep your energy level high, and avoid snacking on foods that don’t provide your body with the nutrients you need.  

Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid caffeinated beverages, as they are more likely to impact your ability to fall asleep after your shift is over. 

Moving your body, even for a short duration can also help with your sleep. Try to find ways to incorporate physical exercise into your routine, even if that means a brisk walk during your break. On your days off, try to find something that you enjoy, and stay consistent as much as possible. 

  • Manage your stress  

Stress can have a significant impact on your sleep. Therefore, employ techniques that help you mitigate the stressors in your life. Whether that be practicing breathing exercises, yoga, exercise or finding a hobby you enjoy that helps you to decompress and relax, finding what works for you and your schedule will be a game changer in terms of reducing stress, which will ultimately benefit your sleep. 

“High levels of stress impair sleep by prolonging how long it takes to fall asleep and fragmenting sleep. Sleep loss triggers our body’s stress response system, leading to an elevation in stress hormones, namely cortisol, which further disrupts sleep.” 

There are challenges that shift workers face regarding their sleep. However, by considering some of these tips to prioritize healthy sleep, we hope you can find balance and restful shuteye in your routine.