Shift Work and Sleep
When you don’t work 9-5, your sleep schedule can suffer.
Working night shift can take a toll on your sleep. Your body’s internal clock uses light to know when to fall asleep and wake up, but shift workers must train their body’s clock differently since they don’t rise and sleep with the sun.
For firefighters, police officers, and nurses, rotating between day and night shifts can also take a toll on normal sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation can impair memory and ability to focus – which can negatively impact work performance. Lack of sleep can also make people irritable and depressed. Shift workers also have an increased risk of ulcers, insulin resistance, and heart disease.
Some may suffer from what is called shift work disorder – an ongoing problem that continually causes symptoms and starts to interfere with work or family life. Symptoms of shift work sleeping disorder include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of energy
- Excessive daytime sleepiness when you need to be awake, alert, and productive
- Insomnia, or the inability to sleep when you need to
- Irritability or depression
- Difficulty with personal relationships
Shift workers need to take steps to ensure they receive enough sleep and keep the body’s circadian rhythms in sync. Night shift workers should expose themselves to bright light during the day, specifically when they wake up. The light will trick the brain to think it is daylight.
Sticking to a sleep schedule is also beneficial since routine helps regulate circadian rhythm. Blackout blinds or curtains could also help block out the sunlight and help the brain sleep. Keeping the room as quiet and dark as possible is key for getting a good and restful sleep during the day.
Workers should limit caffeine toward the end of their shift and avoid working several night shifts in a row. Having time off between night shifts will help the body rest. Also, avoid rotating shifts frequently, such as nurses who switch between working day and night shifts. It takes the body longer to adjust during these switches.
Shift workers should consider tracking their sleep using Somnology’s free SomnologyMobileDoc iPhone application or the wearable Plex® sleep scanner, available soon for pre-order. Both SomnologyMobileDoc and Plex® sleep scanner can help increase the quality of sleep by addressing common sleep problems.