Shift work can be one of the most difficult lifestyles to manage when it comes to getting good sleep, maintaining good mental health, and building strong relationships. Studies show that night shift workers are predominately reaching for caffeine and sugar to help get them through the night after sleeping poorly during the day. Evidence also suggests that if not properly managed, shift work and the related lack of sleep can lead to health problems down the track. Below we catalogue our tips for getting the best sleep when you don’t have a set bed time or have to sleep during the day.
The sun is one of the natural regulators that helps us to put our body into a sleep/wake rhythm. When we are gradually exposed to sunlight, this tells our body it is daytime and prepares us to be alert and ready for the day. Conversely, exposure to the darkness and a lack of sunlight tells our body that it is time for sleep. Try to control your exposure to sunlight to your advantage. Get exposed to natural sunlight around 90 minutes before you need to be at your most alert. Before bed, try to be in as dark a space as possible for at least an hour. It is helpful to fit your bedroom with blackout curtains, and if you drive home in the morning sun, use sunglasses to avoid the sun making you too alert before bed. On your days off, try to get as much sun as possible to maintain your overall health.
Making sure that you get adequate exercise at least 4 hours before bed is one of the best ways to promote good sleep. Exercising will make you more alert in the moment, and help you sleep better later in the day. This means that having a regular exercise routine is crucial to good sleep. Plan your exercise for about 30 minutes before you need to be at your most alert, as the exercise will energize you. Exercising right before bed will wake you up, so try to plan exercise for well before bedtime.
Coffee, one of Melbourne’s favourite past-times, really is the elixir of the Gods when it comes to most workers, and shift workers attest to the power that it can have in helping you stay awake during odd hours. While caffeine can give you an added boost, particularly on the way to work, it can also disrupt your sleeping patterns depending on the timing of your use. Try to avoid coffee for three hours before you plan to get to bed, otherwise you might find it harder to get to sleep when you clock off. Nicotine can have a similar effect, so smokers should avoid cigarettes close to bedtime.
Certain foods and meals can make you feel sleepy, or alert, depending on what and when you are eating. Shift workers report more stomach pain symptoms than other categories of workers due to their disrupted eating habits. Try to plan three meals for the day, as you would if you were working an ordinary shift. Plan a high energy, low GI meal for when you first wake up, a protein rich vegetable dish for the middle of your shift, and a light meal around 3 hours before you plan to go to bed. Avoid alcohol before bed – even though it feels like it helps you to sleep, your sleep quality will be far poorer, and you will wake up feeling fatigued. If you struggle to eat properly, try preparing and freezing meals during down time to take to work with you during the week.
While it may be tempting to sleep in or take a long nap after a poor night’s sleep, this will not help you in the long run. However, try to get a 30 minute nap in during your night shift. This will increase your overall alertness and performance while on the job, without impacting your sleep later in the day. Any longer than 30 minutes will have you awaken feeling groggy, and you will find it harder to sleep that night.
All shift workers have their own unique tips and tricks to get to sleep – one we like is taking a nice hot shower first thing in the morning! Connect with us on Facebook to share your tips and tricks for getting good sleep as a night shift worker.
Last but not least, having a comfy bed that is ergonomically designed to support the human body with zero stress can also help in the process of getting good sleep. Beds for Backs is the only retailer of ergonomic beds guaranteed to give you real support, extra comfort and the best rest. Visit your nearest store to speak to one of our consultants about your unique needs, or view the benefits of our range online.
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