Getting enough quality sleep is the most serious challenge shift workers face. Shift workers often work non-traditional work patterns, which can result in irregular sleep schedules, making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Shift work can impact many areas of a person’s physical and mental health, including:
- Circadian rhythm disturbances.
- Increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
- Developing certain types of cancers and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Increased stress and depression.
- Reduced immune system.
- Increased job-related injuries, including when driving or operating machinery.
- Strains on family and social life.
Getting good-quality sleep is essential for all shift worker’s mental and physical wellbeing. Here are some simple strategies that shift workers can take to improve sleep and limit the effects of sleep deprivation:
- Plan for sleep. Make sure you build time into your daily schedule and give yourself enough time to sleep after working your shift.
- When coming off shifts, limit how much time you are exposed to sunlight. Keep the environment dimly lit.
- Keep a consistent “wind-down” routine to help encourage sleep, even on off-days. Choose to sleep someplace dark, comfortable, quiet, and cool.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime. These can disturb your sleep or make it difficult to get quality sleep.
- Exercise regularly. Being active has been shown to help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
- Find support. Discuss concerns about the effects of shift work on your health with a health professional if you are having difficulty sleeping and to ensure you are staying healthy.