Ever worked a graveyard shift? The National Sleep Foundation’s 2008 poll found that 7% of Americans do shift work. And anyone that’s ever had to work a night shift, or hours that don’t follow a typical daytime schedule, can tell you just how difficult it can be on your sleep schedule. Why is that?
We’re programmed for regular hours
Why is it that shift workers have a harder time getting quality sleep compared to normal 9 to 5 workers? SleepScore Labs VP of Sleep Science, Dr. Roy Raymann, says it all has to do with the way our bodies are programmed.
“The human body is designed to run on a 24-hour schedule, with a built-in messenger system that tells our body what to do based on the time of day,” says Dr. Raymann. “So when it’s light outside, we’re meant to be alert, whereas in the evening, it messages, “it’s time for sleep!”.
Essentially, for shift workers, they’re not getting the right signals at the right times for their schedules. With the confusing light and dark cues, it creates a misalignment between our body clocks (that drives the messenger system) and our scheduled sleep, resulting in poor sleep.
How to cope
If you or someone you know is a shift worker, there’s not a magical fix to solve your sleep problems (apart from finding a regular 9 to 5 job!). If that’s just not an option, you can try a few of these ideas:
While at work:
- When tired, try and fit naps in if possible
- Set up a support group with colleagues to exchange ways to fight the fatigue
- Stay active during your shift (walking, standing, or whatever you can fit in) and work in groups if possible
- When tired sip on a caffeinated beverage of your choice
- Do your boring work tasks at the beginning of your shift versus the end (shift workers tend to feel sleepiest between 4-5am, towards the end of the shift) but keep in mind that you don’t leave the most demanding tasks to these late hours. It’s a tricky balance!
When you’re trying to sleep during the day:
- Wear sunglasses on the way home so you can get minimal morning light exposure.
- Leave a window between your last sip of caffeine and bedtime (a 6-hour window is a good rule of thumb if you can).
- Try to stick to the same bedtime each day (we know it can be tricky when you factor in social engagements, but just try your best!).
- Try some blackout shades in your bedroom to block the sunlight.
- If you live in a noisy apartment complex or another busy daytime location, there are some amazing sound machines that will block out the unwanted disruptions.
If you get older and notice it is harder to deal with shift work, it might be time to really consider finding a more regular daytime job. As we get older, our bodies become less flexible with disruptive sleep schedules, and getting healthy consistent sleep becomes more important to our overall health and wellbeing.
Have more questions about shift work and sleep? Tweet us @sleepscore!