4 Sleep Tips For People Who Work At Night

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While many of us are focused on getting our seven-to-nine hours of recommended sleep overnight, millions of Americans are hard at work on the night shift. According to 2004 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 15 million Americans work full time on evening shift, night shift, rotating shifts, or other employer arranged irregular schedules

A non-traditional work schedule – especially an inconsistent schedule – can generate serious sleep and health issues. Those who work night or rotating shifts seem to have a higher risk of ulcers, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease, according to WebMD.

Shift workers are also at risk for Shift Work Sleep Disorder. The Cleveland Clinic says the disorder causes difficulties adjusting to a different sleep/wake schedule, which results in significant issues with falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping when desired.

There are a variety of sleep strategies and coping mechanisms available to help you get enough sleep when working night or rotating shifts. Since not all jobs are the same, some tips will apply to your situation more than others.

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

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Planning your work schedule

“Employers can plan rotating shifts in ways that will help their workers,” say experts at the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.  “A schedule that rotates clockwise can be adjusted to more easily. This is a more natural change for your body.”

The center recommends a schedule that keeps the following pattern: Day shift, Evening shift, Night shift, Morning shift, Day shift…

“I find it most helpful to group my shifts together so that I am not flipping back and forth between day and night schedules constantly throughout the week.  If I have the time and energy, I will exercise before going into work to experience daylight and work off some stress,” Sarah L., a nurse at a university hospital told The National Sleep Foundation.

Drink caffeine wisely

A cup of coffee may help you work more effectively, research suggests. One 2010 study reported that caffeine intake seemed to reduce the number of work errors of those doing shift work or working nights.

“Limit caffeine,” say experts from WebMD. “Drinking a cup of coffee at the beginning of your shift will help promote alertness. But don’t consume caffeine later in the shift or you may have trouble falling asleep when you get home.”

Related: How Caffeine Affects Sleep

Nap when possible

Grabbing a nap – whether it’s right before, during, or immediately following your shift – could be crucial to your health, say the experts at the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. If it’s do-able for you, your job and your schedule, they recommend taking a 90-minute nap before starting your shift.

“What I try to do is nap during the day at work. I also sleep in increments—for example when I get home, I’ll sleep until noon and then try to fall asleep again around 11 pm,” Fire lieutenant Eric D. told the National Sleep Foundation. “I’ve also started drinking a nighttime (non-caffeinated) tea that aids in my sleep—it seems to help sometimes.”

Consider blackout curtains at home

“Sunlight is a potent stimulator of the circadian rhythm,” Dr. Wesley Elon Fleming, a clinical assistant professor at Loma Linda University and director of the Sleep Center Orange County in Southern California told WebMD. “Even if your eyes are closed, the sunlight coming into the room tells your brain that it’s daytime. Yet your body is exhausted and you’re trying to sleep. That discrepancy … is not a healthy thing for the body to be exposed to.”

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The bottom line

Experts say it is important for shift workers and night workers to prioritize sleep. If you have a family, communicating your needs and working with them to help you get adequate sleep is also key.

“Your family and living companions have a vital role in helping you to sleep better,” says the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. “They need to understand both your unique schedule and your sleep need.”

If possible, they recommend posting a schedule of your shift work to help everyone keep track of your schedule. Work together to reduce the level of noise and light while you try to sleep during the day and schedule deliveries and repairs outside of your sleep hours.

It is also best to consult your doctor if you are concerned about any health or sleep health related issues while doing shift work, night work or otherwise.

[Editor’s Note: The information provided should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a sleep doctor or other medical expert if you have questions related to your own health.]

Featured image: Dmitry Bunin/Shutterstock

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Katie Golde

Katie manages the day to day operations of the Mattress Clarity news site and reviews sleep products in addition to writing and editing sleep news.She hails from Austin, where she lives with her growing family. She is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and has a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and has a background in health and science content. Her work can be found in print and online publications like Discover Magazine, USA Today and The Huffington Post.
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