The Best Advice for Squeezing Healthy Sleep Habits Into Shift Work

By Sophie Letts on 15th Sep 2021

Many of us live our daily lives running on fumes. If you need to change your schedule routinely, getting sufficient sleep can seem impossible. However, with a few good strategies in place, you can make healthy sleep habits a part of your lifestyle, even if you work shifts.

Shift Work and Health Concerns

Shift work presents some obvious challenges. For many people, it can feel like as soon as their bodies become accustomed to their schedule, it changes again. Add to that keeping up a social life and family obligations of any sort and you can feel like a zombie much of the time. Johns Hopkins Medicine points out shift workers often fall into an unhealthy pattern of doing whatever it takes to get by, which can mean making choices that are very hard on your body.

Those decisions — like going on too little sleep and relying on heavy caffeine use and sugary foods to manage your schedule — potentially leave you at higher risk for health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, depression, obesity, and cancer.

Putting Issues to Bed

Improving your bedding can be an important way to offset some of the issues presented by working shifts. If you awaken groggy, stiff, or in pain, your mattress may be worn out or incompatible with your sleeping style. Investing in a well-chosen mattress can be a key to improving physical comfort and sleep quality. This can be particularly important if back pain is keeping you awake or causing you discomfort at work. NBC News notes that memory foam is a great option for those with back pain. Memory foam helps relieve pressure points while keeping the spine in alignment, bringing your body as close as possible to sleeping in a “floating” position.

Power Naps, Tricks, and Tips

Many people rely on power naps during breaks for getting through their shift work, and sorting out the details of what is truly helpful can be confusing. Some people suggest a short nap (30 minutes or less) so you don’t feel groggy afterward. An hour-long nap is more restorative, but that often leads to feeling sluggish and out of sorts for the hour after your nap, which can be dangerous in certain professions. The bottom line is that when it comes to napping, you may need to experiment a bit to see what works well for you.

If you’re feeling tired and don’t have an opportunity to nap during your break, or if you nap and then feel sluggish, exposing yourself to bright lighting can help you feel more alert. Blue lights from a smartphone, TV, or computer are particularly effective. Along those same lines, adding dim lighting when you’re preparing for bed can help your body wind down. Also, instead of indulging in one or two big doses of caffeine to feel energized, try consuming small doses throughout your shift to avoid a “crash” later. Exercising early in your shift can help you feel more awake, too, but avoid being too physical in the last few hours before you plan to sleep.

Habits and hygiene

Thankfully, there are several habits you can rely on to improve your shift work-oriented lifestyle. MedicalNewsToday recommends dedicating seven to nine hours to sleep immediately following your shift. Sleep in an environment, which is dark and quiet, such as a basement or bedroom with light-blocking curtains. As you create a healthier lifestyle, avoid drastic changes and focus on sustainable adjustments that you can incorporate into your daily routine.

When it comes to eating, sticking with daytime meals regardless of your work schedule can help your body manage the rotation of your routine better. Nibbling light snacks during the night shift is okay, but avoid any heavy foods, especially after 3 a.m.

Even when you work shifts, you can maintain healthy sleep habits. By making good choices, you can improve the quality of your slumber and your overall health. Ensure you take care of yourself and receive sufficient sleep!

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