Sleep and Shift Work

Many workers deal with shift work which can disrupt the body’s natural sleep wake cycle. With night shift work there are serious negative effects on sleep and sleepiness. This can lead to decreased work performance, increased accident rates, fatigue and significant health consequences such as cardiovascular disease, certain forms of cancer and significant metabolic diseases such as obesity. It may also increase risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes and increase one’s drive to eat high calorie foods while decreasing physical activity.

The long term effects of shift work on sleep are not well understood. What is known is that night shift workers experience more errors, increased sleepiness and fatigue, perform more slowly, have increased accidents and are less alert. Studies show that an increased number of consecutive night shifts in a row leads to an increase in incidents.

There are many simple lifestyle and behavioral changes that can help:

  • reduce stress
  • dark and quiet bedroom
  • moderate temperature in the bedroom
  • maintain regular sleep/wake times when possible
  • avoid heavy meals before bed
  • avoid alcohol before bed
  • increase physical activity with a daily exercise program
  • decrease or stop caffeine consumption (coffee, tea, soda pop, energy drinks)
  • avoid electronic devices as they stimulate the brain

Establish a “before bedtime routine’ such as a warm soak in the tub or warm shower to relax muscles. Turn the lights low or off, play calm music and use calming aromatherapy.

Shift work can be a challenge. Making changes can be difficult at first but can lead to improved sleep, less fatigue and improved health.