Shift Workers: Solutions for Sleep Problems
You stand at the bathroom sink, yawn, and splash cold water on
your face. You glance at the clock—it is 10 pm. Instead of putting
on pajamas and crawling beneath the covers, you are dressing for
work. You fill a thermos full of coffee and stumble out the door.
On the drive to work, you rub your eyes and roll down the window a
bit to keep from falling asleep at the wheel. You have trouble
concentrating on your work and you struggle to stay awake
through the night. Finally, it is quitting time and you can go
home to bed. Just when you are about to drift off, a neighbor cranks
up a lawn mower, the birds seem to chirp louder than usual, and you
cannot ignore the sunlight seeping in around the corners of the
The lifestyle of a shift worker can be tough. The lack
of sleep can lead to many problems, including
, lower job productivity, health problems, and
marital and family discord. It can also lead to accidents, both on
the job and on the highway. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) notes that shift workers are more likely to drive to or from work drowsy at least a few days a month than those who work a regular daytime schedule.
For millions of American shift workers the frustration of struggling to stay
awake while they perform their jobs and then battling with
and other sleep-related problems once they return home is too real. But if shift work creates so many problems, why not just stick with
a daytime routine? Well, many people who make their living at odd hours
provide crucial services, such as emergency care and police and
fire protection. There is also a demand for round-the-clock workers
in the transportation and manufacturing industries. Shift work is essential in our
24-hour society. Our bodies,
however, are regulated by a different clock.
Internal Circadian Clock
Humans are regulated by an internal body clock that causes them
to be active or sleepy based on different phases of each 24-hour
day. For most people, the desire to sleep is greatest when it is
dark outside, and the need to be alert and active is greatest when
it is daylight.
When people don't follow this internal schedule, it can affect their health. Nearly 10% of shift workers are diagnosed with something called delayed sleep phase syndrome. It is a sleep disorder characterized by late bedtime and waking 2 hours later than normal or desired times on most days. It is also found in people who do swing (or rotating) shift work. Even though people working swing shifts occasional work "normal" hours, their bodies do not have enough time to adjust to changing sleep schedule.
Strategies for Getting Some Shuteye
If you are working a shift and having trouble sleeping when you
get home, here are some strategies for getting some much-needed
- Keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends.
- Create a quiet, peaceful environment for sleeping.
- Wear eye shades if the sunlight disturbs you.
- Wear ear plugs if daytime noise keeps you awake.
- Run a fan or create other white noise to help lull you to
and alcohol near bedtime.
Some physical activity during your working hours may also help. Consider getting physical during your breaks by taking quick walks. If you still have problems, consult a doctor about the use of prescription or
A Short Snooze
When you cannot get enough sleep, you may find it beneficial to
take a nap. A short nap can recharge a person and improve job
performance, alertness, and mood. The National Sleep Foundation reports that naps at the workplace are important and effective
for employees who need to keep a high level of alertness in order
to make quick decisions. Naps at the workplace are also helpful for
people working doubles or 24-hour shifts.
Some may continue to have trouble even with these changes. If you are experiencing severe symptoms related to sleep
deprivation, it may be best to consider a job change, or at least a
National Center on Sleep Disorders
National Sleep Foundation
Better Sleep Council Canada
The Canadian Sleep Society
Circadian Technologies website. Available at:
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated September 1, 2010. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Facts and Stats: Drowsy Driving. National Sleep Foundation Drowsy Driving website. Available at:
. Accessed December 12, 2012.
Problem Sleepiness. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/pslp%5Ffs.pdf. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Shift Work and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation website: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-topics/shift-work-and-sleep. Accessed December 7, 2012.
Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthy%5Fsleep.pdf. Accessed December 7, 2012.