Although often neglected by some, it goes without saying that sleep is a basic human need. Its role in protecting our physical and mental health is well-established that it is considered as important to our bodies as breathing, eating, and exercising.
Most adults (18-64 y/o) are recommended to have between 7-9 hours of sleep each night1. For someone who works regular hours and without any existing sleep disorder, having this much sleep is nothing short of attainable with proper planning of your day and time management.
However, if you are a shift worker who works at night, early morning, or rotating shifts, getting adequate sleep can be a real struggle even in the best of times. The sleeping difficulty comes as no surprise because you are essentially forcing your body to sleep against your internal body clock that is naturally designed for you to be active in the day and asleep at night1. On top of that, the presence of disturbance factors such as light and noise are highest in the morning, making it even more challenging to bring yourself to sleep.
Whether you are an experienced shift worker or new to shiftwork, the added stress and worry from the current pandemic has likely made getting enough sleep even more challenging for you in the past months.
Not getting adequate sleep can leave you feeling worn-out and exhausted the next day. It can also cause some alterations in brain activity that negatively affects your attention, concentration, reaction time, memory, and mood2. For this reason, you may notice that you are less likely to finish tasks and more likely to make mistakes when you lack sleep, which can subsequently affect your performance, productivity, and safety at work.
However, the dangers of sleep deficiency go far beyond these short-term productivity issues. Over the long term, consistent sleep deficiency can lead to lower immunity and chronic health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke2. If not prevented, the sleep deficiency associated with shiftwork can absolutely take a heavy toll on your health and eventually lead to impairment of quality of life.
Sleep challenges associated with shiftwork are not without a solution. Just like any other health issue, there are steps you can take to improve your sleep even while working at night so that you can prevent both the short- and long-term consequences. The following are some tips from SleepFoundation.org that can help you shift your sleep in the right direction.
Just remember that there is no “one-size-fits-all solution”, and you may need to try different strategies (or combinations) to find what works best for you when it comes to improving sleep. Trying to achieve the 7-9 hours of sleep while on a shiftwork may be a challenge at first, but as you figure out the best way to adapt to this non-traditional work schedule, it will be an easy feat and your body will thank you for it.