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What can I do as a shift worker?

Shift workers may have highly irregular schedules or limited time for sleep and suffer the consequences of sleep loss more than dayworkers. It’s therefore even more important for shift workers to plan and prioritise their sleep.

The first consideration is the work schedule itself, which can either help or harm your ability to sleep depending on the pattern. The Workplace Scheduling Solutions section provides more information on the general principles around sleep- and circadian-friendly shift schedule design.

Individuals should then review what they can do to help themselves and those around them:

Plan ahead

for example, consider shifting your sleep later and scheduling a late afternoon nap before the first night in a night shift sequence. Sleep in after an evening shift. Try and get more sleep than normal in the days before a particularly difficult work schedule.

Use good sleep hygiene practices

Particularly when sleeping in the day. Sleep in a cool, dark comfortable room. Use an eye-mask and ear-plugs and switch off the telephone when sleeping. Tell people not to disturb you. More information can be found on the Sleep Health Foundation website.

Daytime sleep

The main problem for night shift-workers is their inability to sleep during the day. Shift workers should get home and sleep as soon as possible after the shift ends (not watch TV or answer email). If you are working consecutive night shifts, and you cannot sleep for long enough after the shift, make sure that you schedule a nap in the afternoon before returning to the night shift. Even a short nap will help reduce the sleepiness later in the shift, particularly in the middle of the night.

Melatonin

Melatonin can be useful in helping shift workers sleep during the day. It is available on prescription so please consult your physician before using melatonin. More information can be found on the Sleep Health Foundation website.

Light

Light is a useful sleepiness countermeasure. Ensure that your workplace is well-lit and ideally with high intensity blue-enriched white light.

Caffeine

Caffeine can be helpful for maintaining alertness on-the-job, but it should be used ‘little and often’ (one tea, weak coffee or soda every 1-2 hours) and stopped at least five hours before your planned sleep time. More information can be found on the Sleep Health Foundation website.

Get screened for clinical sleep disorders

If you struggle with sleep or high levels of sleepiness – it will be hard to manage sleep well if there is an underling sleep problem. More information is available in the Screening for Sleep Disorders section.

Everyone’s work schedule and sleep will be set up slightly differently but the same principles apply – plan ahead and prioritise time for sleep.

Additional information is available from the Sleep Health Foundation as follows: