Sleep and the Shift Worker


Today’s world operates 24/7, so while many of us are sleeping at night there are plenty of others awake, keeping the wheels of industry turning. Shift-workers now comprise about 20% of the workforce, and if you are one of these the effects this has on your sleep will come as no surprise.

When it comes to sleep, shift-work poses a fundamental problem – it requires us to be awake when the body wants to sleep, and to sleep when the body wants to be awake, and therefore it works against our natural sleep biological rhythm. Not only does this disrupt all the other biological rhythms – like our appetite and activity cycles – it also often means that the shift-worker will struggle to get their 7-9 hours sleep that is needed for optimal health and performance.

As a result, even though they may not realise it, many shift-workers experience the consequences of sleep deprivation both in the short term (irritability, increased appetite, relationship issues and lack of motivation) and in the long term (weight gain, heart disease and depression).

Worryingly too, sleep deprivation impairs our ability to concentrate and increases the likelihood of micro-sleeps, leading to a rise in workplace accidents. Indeed some of the most well-known catastrophes of our time such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown are considered to be the direct result of insufficient sleep.

However, just because there are these potential consequences, shift working does not mean that you are doomed to suffer them. It just means that you need to be aware of how to go about getting the right quality and quantity of sleep.

To help you get to sleep and stay asleep after a night shift, follow these suggestions:

  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses on your way home to minimise exposure to light.
  • Eat only a light meal when you get home.
  • Sleep as soon as possible after getting home.
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine and coffee.
  • Implement a going to bed routine – no technology, hot shower, relaxation exercise – and follow the routine all the time.
  • Ensure your sleep environment is conducive to good sleep. This means:

It is dark. Use block-out blinds and remove all sources of light.

It is quiet. Ear plugs may be required.

It is cool. A fan or air-conditioning may be required.

It is comfortable. Check your bedding.

  • Exercise regularly, eat healthy and limit fast food.


Are you a shift worker? If you have any comments leave them below!


 Sleep well – Be well.

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