Improving sleep for shift workers

Tips to improve your sleep

As a shift worker, it can be more difficult to have a good sleep pattern, irregular hours, daytime sleeping and stressful work can make it harder to get the rest you need. But don’t despair, there are many things you can do to improve your sleep as a shift worker. Here are some top tips for improving your sleep:

Establish sleep patterns

It can be more difficult for shift workers to establish a good sleep routine given the irregular hours and the type of work they do. Sometimes, the best time to spend with family is during the day when you may need to sleep. But it is important to get the rest you need – and one of the ways to do this is by sleeping and waking at the same time, even on weekends and days off.

Consistency is key – our body gets into its rhythm so, by sticking to this as much as possible, you will improve your sleep. This also applies to naps too – so try as much as you can to schedule naps and stick to the same times and length of time each day.

Think about what you consume

Shift workers should avoid heavy meals, high-fat and spicy foods, protein, alcohol, too much liquid and caffeine for six hours before going to bed. This is because our digestion slows down when we’re asleep.

If you think you might be sensitive to caffeine, you may want to think about eliminating it from your diet altogether. Remember that it’s not just coffee or tea that contain caffeine – some soft drinks, chocolate and painkillers do too. So check ingredients if you’re not sure.

Ideal snacks to encourage sleep are dairy and carbohydrate-rich foods containing tryptophan, an amino acid which encourages sleep, such as bananas, nuts and seeds, milk, eggs, honey, low-fat cheese and yoghurt. Also, make sure you consume enough magnesium in your diet (found in meat and dark leafy green veg) as this essential mineral helps us sleep.

Sleep-proof your environment

Make sure your mattress is comfortable and think about replacing yours if it’s over 7 years old. Avoid using your phone or computer at least one hour before bed (longer if possible), because the blue light they give off affects melatonin levels, which can cause you trouble getting to sleep and you also get less of the restorative, REM sleep that you need. Or, use blue light filters on tech devices such as smartphones to reduce the exposure to blue lights before bed.

For shift workers, sleep headphones can be particularly useful when trying to block out noise – especially for shift workers needing to sleep during the day. Sleep headphones are specifically designed to be comfortable when lying down – pair them with a comfortable eye mask and nothing will disturb your sleep. Even better than an eye mask, get some blackout curtains so light doesn’t disturb your sleep. The best temperature for sleep is between 60- and 67-degrees Fahrenheit so make sure your room isn’t too cold or hot! Also avoid cigarettes because nicotine is a stimulant, just like caffeine.

Do some exercise

Doing regular exercise really helps fall asleep and also stay asleep. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like fast walking, has been proven to help those with insomnia get to sleep quicker and also stay asleep for longer.

For shift workers with physically demanding jobs, try a light walk, swim or light stretching, yoga and pilates which can help the mind and body de-stress before bedtime.

Use your bedroom for two things only

Use your bedroom for two things and two things only: sleep and sexual activity. This is so that you only see it as a place to do those things, not work or anything that may stress you out.

Wind down after work

Many people worry at bedtime and when your mind is racing, it can be difficult to stop, making falling asleep pretty difficult. Try doing relaxing activities before bed (like having a long shower or bath or reading) and get into a routine so your body gets used to this before bedtime. Try thinking about positive things and writing them down before bedtime.

Have a ‘worry period’ a couple of hours before bedtime and write down all your worries on a piece of paper, including things you have on your to-do list. That will help you get them out of your head and you can deal with them the next day. Also try meditation before bedtime – and some meditation apps such as Headspace even offer sleep-specific meditations.

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