Apr 27, 2008

Shiftworker Tips: getting the sleep you need

Take responsibility for getting enough sleep to feel rested and restored. For some people this happens without doing anything special. However, most shiftworkers need to become more aware of what to do to get satisfying sleep and when to do it.

When to Sleep after Night Shift
This depends on the individual. Try different times and see what works best for you. As you experiment with different sleep times, keep a written record of when you go to sleep, when you wake up, and how rested you feel. This will help you identify which sleep schedule works best for you.

Some shiftworkers like to sleep in one longer period, but many workers need two shorter sleep periods to get enough sleep after the night shift. It is a good idea to go to bed as early as possible after the night shift in order to maximize sleep. A second sleep also could be taken in the afternoon to get ready for night shift. Try taking advantage of the natural tendency to be sleepy in mid-afternoon. You might get your most satisfying sleep at that time.

Does Rest Equal Sleep?
Just resting without sleep is not enough. The brain has to have sleep, or you will be sleepy later in the day or during night shift. However, rest without sleep still is valuable for body and muscle recovery. Schedule at least seven hours in bed, even if you don't sleep the whole time.

What is the Minimum Amount of Sleep?

The vast majority of workers need at least six hours of sleep but most need more than this. Most people do not feel refreshed and at their best with just six hours. Staying with your own preferred amount of sleep is best in the long run. You might find that you need less as you become more experienced with shiftwork.

Switching Back to Days: When switching back to days after the night shift, it is best to get most of your sleep the following night. Sleep just a couple of hours shortly after night shift to shake off sleepiness. Then stay awake all day and go to sleep at your regular bedtime at night.

Napping: Shiftworkers frequently nap, especially when working night shift. Added to your regular sleep, a short afternoon or evening nap will help fight sleepiness during the night. However, napping is not long enough to replace regular sleep. If you nap, allow enough time for drowsiness to wear off before starting work. If you have time to nap at work during your break, don't make the nap too short. A nap of 15 minutes or less might actually make you more sleepy. Twenty to 30 minutes should be the minimum for a nap during a work break. Again, allow enough time for drowsiness to wear off before doing hazardous work. And don't use work-break naps to replace your sleep at home. Naps work best when they are extra sleep time. They don't work as well when you are trying to make up for lost sleep.

Protect Sleep

  • Block Out Noise: Switch off the phone and disconnect the doorbell. Use ear plugs. Ask the family to use headphones for the stereo or TV. Set strict times for noisy activity, such as vacuuming, clothes washing, or children playing. Don't allow these activities during your sleep times. Locate your bedroom in the quietest place. If possible, get away from outside noise and also away from the kitchen or bath-room. Soundproof the bedroom with insulation and heavy curtains. Put signs out to say you are sleeping. Tell friends and neighbors when not to call.
  • Keep a Regular Sleep Routine: Make the bedroom as dark as possible. Always sleep in the bedroom. Follow your regular bedtime routine every time you go to sleep. For example, wash up and brush your teeth so you feel comfortable. This can serve as a signal to your body that it is time to sleep. Don't use the bed for anything except what it is intended for. For example, don't read, eat, watch TV, write bills, or argue with your spouse in bed. Make sure you have a comfortable bed that won't disturb your sleep.
  • Avoid Heavy Foods and Alcohol Before Sleep: Heavy, greasy foods are anti-sleep because of stomach upsets. If you must eat, a light snack won't disturb your sleep. Alcohol might make you feel sleepy, but it will wake you up too quickly after falling asleep. Don't drink alcohol in the hour or two before sleep.

Source: Plain Language About Shiftwork (NIOSH)

Related Posts on National Shiftwork Information Center:

* Tips for getting better sleep

* Tips to help you avoid drowsy driving

* Handling long night shifts: 9 shiftworkers tips

* Foods that help you stay alert or help you sleep

* Shiftworker lifestyle training: fatigue countermeasures, sleep strategies, and more

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