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Health Awareness: Caring for Yourself While Shift Working

Updated on September 11, 2012

Why sleep is important

Humans are not nocturnal animals. Our circadian rhythm dictates that we sleep at night, regardless of what our pattern for falling asleep may be. Therefore, when we continuously stay awake through the night it circumvents the biological flow of our sleep cycle.

While there are special circumstances that propel us into pulling an ‘all-nighter’, such as cramming for final exams-although that is not recommended, it is the ongoing wakefulness during normal sleep hours that are problematic. However, if you are a night shift worker you may not have any choice but to stay awake while others enjoy dreamland.

In this case, it is important to know what you can do to enhance the quality of your life through this particular period of employment until other things change.

All I want is my SLEEP!

Lucky dog...that should be me!
Lucky dog...that should be me! | Source

Working the Graveyard Shift

Know what is expected of you during your shift. For example, are you allowed to rest on your break? Are you allowed to take a walk during your break? Is there more than one break for you to revive yourself?

Give yourself positive feedback and pep talks. If your mind stays in a negative mode it will be harder to focus and concentrate on the tasks at hand.

If you are expected to work the off shift consistently, work with your manager to group your days of work together in order to have your days off clustered. This will allow for more rest and recuperation before starting the insomnia cycle once more.

Find out if there is an end in sight-will this be a permanent, semi-permanent or temporary situation. Adjust accordingly.

If your manager expects you to swing between one week days and one weeknight shift find out if you can have one week off in between in order to readjust to your loss of sleep week.

How to prepare for a good sleep

Prepare for the hours of wakefulness by resting or napping prior to your shift. And, as you get into a routine this will become easier to do.

When returning from work, have a light breakfast and go directly to bed without too many distractions pulling you from your inclination to go to sleep immediately.

Do not stop to exercise. Exercise acts as a stimulant and ‘wakes’ you up.

Do not drink caffeine beverages during the last half of your shift. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake. This includes coffee, tea, cola, and any other caffeine drink. This would also include any stimulant pill that may be sold over the counter as a product to keep you awake.

Eat plenty of healthy, fresh food. Try to avoid snacking throughout the shift. Although many people do a steady 'graze' this will add unwanted weight onto your body throughout the year.

Take a multivitamin daily and drink plenty of water throughout the shift.

Insomnia: preparing a restful environment

If you have family members at home while you are sleeping remind them that their daytime is your bedtime and try to get them on board with being quiet. Perhaps they can spend time out of the home during the primary hours of your sleep cycle; or perhaps there is a designated area of the house they can stay in that is not in the immediate vicinity of the bedroom.

Knowing that you have a certain amount of control over family members doesn’t mean you have the same control over the neighbors. Those who have outdoor dogs that constantly bark can create ill feelings. A heart to heart chat may enlighten them to your dilemma.

Invest in a good pair of ear plugs-they work wonders! A fan that circulates air while giving off a soft whirring noise might be soothing. Eye shades are helpful, especially if you do not have good window blinds. Music played softly will help some, although it may be a distraction to others.

Window adjustment is a must for those sleeping during the day. If you have an opportunity, investing in window darkening curtains is beneficial. These are specially made to filter out the sunlight.

Keeping the temperature in the room adjusted to a level that enhances your sleep is something that is necessary for uninterrupted sleep. If it is too cold or too hot the body is uncomfortable.

Owning a good mattress and pillow(s) is another important investment. After being awake all night long the last thing you want is to toss and turn because the mattress is old, sagging or lumpy. You want something that will support your weight yet be soft enough to feel you are on a mattress-not the floor.


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