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7 Sleep Tips for Shift Workers

Many Australian adults experience problems sleeping, especially when having to work non-traditional or a variety of shifts (often called ‘swing shifts’). Sleep disturbances wreak havoc on relationships, create personal and public safety issues, and affect work performance and quality of life. However, there are a number of methods that help individuals get the necessary rest and remain alert at work.

1. Caffeine Limitations

The stimulating effects of coffee or other beverages help workers remain alert before and during the beginning of a shift. Continually consuming caffeinated beverages throughout the workday inhibits the ability to wind down at the end of the shift. Cut the coffee intake during the last four hours of work. This allows the body sufficient time for eliminating the substance from the system and encouraging relaxation.

2. Create the Environment

A pleasant environment promotes a sense of rest and the chance to get uninterrupted sleep. Take a warm bath or shower before bed, which helps alleviate stress and tension from the body. Ensure that friends and families call or visit during waking hours, or turn off the ringer on the phone. Likewise, avoid planning activities or scheduling appointments at times required for sleep.

Keep the bedroom at a cooler temperature and use insulated draperies or blockout blinds on the windows, which keep out the light regardless of the time of day. Invest in an eye mask if necessary. Some fall asleep while listening to soft, peaceful music or soothing sounds while others prefer absolute quiet. Use plenty of pillows to adequately support various regions of the body and offer additional physical comfort.

3. Work Environment

Conversely, while at work, keep the location as bright and exhilarating as possible. Turn on lights and play music if allowed. Individuals confined to a desk should make a point of getting up and moving about the facility. Engage in conversations and interact among co-workers. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. 

All of these activities enhance alertness at work while allowing the body to expel enough energy and feel the need to unwind at the end of the day.

4. Sleep Routine

If continually working the same afternoon or graveyard shift, establish a daily sleep schedule that ensures getting six to eight hours of sleep. Stick to the routine on days off. The hours of sleep often change while on vacation in attempts at keeping up with the rest of the world. However, take the last day or two for getting back into the sleep routine, which prevents grogginess on the first day back at work.

5. Take Naps

If for whatever reason a situation prevents a long, restful period of sleep, consider a nap before having to go to work. A power nap lasting no more than 30 minutes offers many benefits that include better reaction time, increased alertness and enhanced work performance. Napping too long only results in awakening feeling more tired than before.

6. Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle goes a long way in preventing illness and providing the body with enough energy to keep up with the demands of a hectic schedule. Besides choosing nutritious foods at mealtime, keep junk food snacks to a minimum. When in need of a pick-me-up, reach for cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, nuts or yogurt. In addition to any physical activity endured at work, get some type of exercise at least three times a week. Not only will exercise help maintain a healthy weight, but also keeps bones, muscles and the cardiovascular system strong while offering a more restful sleep. If workouts create a rejuvenating effect, resist the urge to exercise before bedtime.

7. Shift Rotations

Some employees rotate between all three shifts, which really have a tendency toward disrupting sleep schedules. If at all possible, work with supervisors to get shifts scheduled from a day to night progression. This allows the body time to transition into different sleeping hours.