If you’re a shift worker, you probably know first hand how shift work and sleep don’t go together. Here are our top tips on how to get the best sleep you can.

Sleep and shift work


What is shift work?

Generally speaking, shift work is defined as any shift that falls outside the hours of 6am and 7pm. It can include fixed hours and rotating hours, as well as shifts that are ‘split’.

How does shift work affect sleep?

Just like you have a daily routine, your body has one too. It’s called a circadian rhythm and it’s a 24-hour internal body clock that controls your cycles of sleep and wakefulness.

This is called your circadian rhythm, which is influenced by a number of factors including:

  • environmental cues, especially light
  • hormones such as melatonin (that promote sleep) and cortisol (that promote alertness)
  • body temperature
  • metabolism
  • work hours
  • physical activity
  • age.

The human sleep-wake cycle means that our bodies are primed to be awake during the day and asleep for around 8 hours each night. People who work shift work run counter to their circadian rhythm and therefore are at risk of developing shift work disorder.

What is shift work disorder?

Shift work disorder, also known as circadian rhythm sleep disorder primarily affects people who work night, early morning, and rotating shifts. Symptoms often impact everyday life and may include:

  • excessive sleepiness, both on and off the job
  • difficulty concentrating
  • lack of energy
  • insomnia that prevents you from getting adequate sleep
  • sleep that feels incomplete or not refreshing
  • depression or moodiness
  • significant sleep loss.

How does shift work affect your health?

On average, shift workers get one to four hours sleep less than other workers, and often have to break their sleep up into two periods during the day — a few hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon before going to work. Shift workers often find it difficult to sleep in the day, especially during summer months when the weather is hot.

When you’re a shift worker who tries to sleep during the day, you end up disrupting your circadian rhythm. This puts you at higher risk of health conditions and other issues, including:

  • obesity
  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • mood changes
  • gastrointestinal problems, such as constipation and stomach discomfort
  • motor vehicle and work-related accidents
  • relationship issues including family problems.

In addition, sleep deprivation caused by shift work may increase the risk of epilepsy in pre-disposed people and those with diabetes may find it hard to control their blood sugar levels.

Tips for sleeping and shift work

If you’re a shift worker, there are a number of things you can do to improve your sleep.

  • Try to keep a regular sleep schedule, including on days off
  • Take at least 48 hours off after a series of shifts, if possible
  • Wear sunglasses when leaving work to minimise sun exposure to help prevent the ‘daytime’ clock from activating
  • Nap when possible
  • Limit caffeine intake four hours before bedtime
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Create a dark environment for sleeping by using heavy shades
  • Reduce household noise as much as you can during the day
  • Wear earplugs or use white noise to drown out sound while you sleep
  • Avoid long commutes that cut into your sleeping hours
  • Stick to a good bedtime routine, even on days you don’t work

Of course, sleeping on a comfortable, supportive mattress is key to getting a night of good sleep. At BedGuard we have a range of waterproof mattresses to suit everyone. Speak to our friendly staff or browse online today.

Leave a Comment