Who doesn’t love getting a full eight hours of sleep? Starting your shift feeling fully rested and energised is a wonderful feeling we could all do with more of.
But getting good quality sleep on a regular basis can be elusive for many shift workers. Human biology is essentially hardwired for being active during the day and resting at night. With work and family responsibilities added to the mix, it’s little wonder shift workers can often feel more tired than people who work regular 9-5 hours.
If you find you’re regularly waking up tired or feeling consistently sleepy while awake, it might be time to look at your ‘sleep hygiene’. After all, sleep is one of the most important factors for your overall health and your safety at work.
We’ll explore some of the risks associated with poor sleep and the top sleep tips for shift workers that can help you get in your full eight hours every day.
A wide range of scientific research has drawn attention to the side effects of poor sleep that affect shift workers.
For example, excessive tiredness from shift work can impact your overall mental functioning. A 2016 study of 60 shift workers found that a combination of long working hours and irregular sleep cycles led to a decline in their cognitive performance. It also found people who worked night shifts experienced an increased amount of sleepiness compared to those working day shifts.
Cognitive performance matters even more if you’re an HGV driver, operate a forklift or CNC or other heavy machinery. About 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial drivers, while shift workers are twice as likely to fall asleep at the wheel compared with non-shift workers, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Further, about 26% of shift workers experience what is referred to as ‘shift work sleep disorder’ (SWSD). This condition makes it difficult to adjust to a different sleep/wake schedule, which results in problems with insomnia during the day and excessive sleepiness at night – potentially a vicious cycle!
There are a number of strategies to help you fall and stay asleep easier. Some ways to improve sleep include:
Good sleep starts at home. The challenge for many shift workers is they’re sharing a household with people who aren’t on the same schedule as them – including children! To reduce noise and other distractions, you may have to set some boundaries with other members of your household.
Other ways to optimise your bedroom for the best sleep possible include:
An effective pre-sleep routine is important for everyone, but especially night shift workers who need to wind down and tuck in during daylight. Preparing yourself for sleep with some quiet time before going to bed and putting away your phone and other devices can help put you in the right mental state for falling asleep.
Research on SWSD has shown the importance of consistency in sleep routines – waking up and going to bed at the same times each day. If you’re working nights on a consistent basis, you should aim to keep the same regularity in your sleep patterns even on your days off.
Other ways to tweak your sleep routine include:
As the human body is primed for sleeping at night and being awake during the day, there is a delicate balance of hormones that is constantly working to support this rhythm. This makes diet especially crucial for shift workers, as sleep patterns are linked to the efficiency of the body’s metabolism.
Research from the University of Colorado shows sleeping during the day burns fewer calories than at night, pointing to a connection between night shift work and obesity. Meanwhile, getting more shut-eye each day equates to consuming up to 10 fewer grams of sugar daily, according to a 2018 study. These are at least two good reasons to avoid the takeaway and opt for healthier meals instead!
While many of us love our cuppa during shift hours, try not to rely on caffeine to combat the effects of poor sleep. It’s best to limit caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks) to the beginning of your shift and ensure you avoid it for three to four hours before your bedtime.
Alcohol is best avoided before bed as it can interfere with your sleep quality. It’s also sensible to take precautions when using sleeping pills and supplements like melatonin, as these can produce side effects. Get advice from your GP before taking any medication to help you sleep.
Finally, exercise is just as important as diet. Although getting in enough exercise each day can be a struggle for anyone, it’s especially important for shift workers as exercise has a major impact on sleep quality. Setting aside at least 30 minutes each day for a walk or gym session can relieve stress and help you sleep better – just make sure your workout ends at least one hour before bedtime.
People who work shifts are more sensitive to sleep problems than other workers, so it’s important to make ‘sleep hygiene’ a priority. Adopting good daily habits can make a huge difference to your sleep quality.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so you may need to try different strategies (or combinations) to find what works best for you. If you’ve been experiencing sleep problems for several weeks, make sure you seek medical advice.
If you’re keen to take on new temp jobs, our experienced team of industrial and warehousing recruitment consultants regularly match people to a range of positions, including HGV Drivers, Forklift Drivers, Order Pickers, Warehouse Operatives and Mail Sorters.
Operating in the Midlands and South Yorkshire, the team at QS Recruitment is always ready to help you find your next job. Get in touch with us to find out more!