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Sleep and the Shift Worker
At first glance, shift work and flexible work patterns may seem like great options. Part of the appeal may be that you’re free to do things when others are at work. You can shop, visit places, do things with relative ease.
And from a business and operational perspective, flexible shifts and work patterns provide full 24-hour coverage and the means to maximize efficiency during business hours. They are used effectively in shops, call centers, medical services, security, catering, hospitality, emergency services and in taxi or overnight delivery.
But for the worker, the reality often sets in that the people you want to spend time with are busy, at work, or you’re not available because you’re catching up on some much-needed sleep. Shift workers typically sleep an average of only 5-6 hours per shift, down from the more usual 7-8 hours. This can lead to stress, FOMO, a sense of isolation, and ultimately health problems.
And for the business owner, shift work can take its toll on your staff, who are statistically more prone to insomnia and sleep-related problems, leading to more accidents, poor concentration and absenteeism. Mental health can be affected over time and can lead to depression, reduced work performance and difficulties with personal relationships.
Here are some tips for coping with flexible and shift work patterns;
– Patterns of rotating shifts It has been found to wreak havoc with the body’s circadian clock and can ultimately cause problematic sleep patterns to develop. Try, whenever possible, to maintain a similar bedtime routine, even when you’re not working. If possible, arrange a shift pattern that allows days off between night shifts to recover. Try to maintain a consistent routine so that your body rhythms adjust.
– Some employers appreciate that sleep is a problem for the shift worker and offer on-site employees a 20-minute nap during their shifts. Accept the offer and remove extreme fatigue. It has been found to be a viable and effective means of supporting and maintaining a healthier workforce as many employers are aware that absenteeism, poor performance and many workplace accidents can be attributed to stress and lack of sleep
– Morale can be affected when staff regularly find themselves missing out on important family and social events due to their flexible working hours. FOMO, guilt, and issues related to personal relationships need to be addressed. A responsive employer will appreciate the benefits of supporting good and trained staff, will not want to lose them and will aim to provide open communications, training and be as supportive as possible.
– Be active and maintain energy levels during breaks. Get some fresh air, walk, run, even exercise and get your circulation levels up. Take water and healthy food.
– Manage your caffeine intake. At the beginning of a shift pattern, it’s important to stay awake, but as you’re nearing the end of a shift and thinking about getting some sleep, it’s helpful to minimize caffeine levels.
– Note that the most sleepy moment it’s between 4 and 5 in the morning, so make sure there are tasks to keep you alert and interested; avoid saving tedious or boring work until the end of your shift.
– How far do you travel to work? Try to maximize your rest time by avoiding, if possible, long commutes or running errands back home, which will often serve to keep you awake and make it harder for you to fall asleep. If you feel drowsy while driving (and shift workers are almost twice as likely to fall asleep at the wheel), consider driving without shoes, keeping the window down and singing along to the radio.
– Talk and share useful tips and advice with coworkers and peers. Find out how they cope and learn from each other.
– The dream can be difficult to avoid and difficult to program. Some shift workers find that getting enough sleep becomes a major concern, constantly playing on their minds. It can be stressful trying to maintain a semblance of a normal life, wanting to socialize, nurture relationships, keep in touch with family and friends when working shifts. Even eating meals at unusual times can throw life into disarray, especially for those with flexible shift patterns where each week has a different schedule.
– Sleeping during the day can be heavy with all sorts of distractions, ranging from the practical considerations of coping with daylight and external noises to guilt over all the things we could, should, should do. Negotiations with ourselves about how little sleep we can get are common, as is the desire to have a normal life outside of work.
– Support good sleep making sure your bedroom is dark and comfortable. Maybe use blackout blinds. We are programmed to sleep at night and wake up during the day. Ask housemates to be respectful and keep noise to a minimum for a few hours. An eye mask or earplugs can help. Put your phone on silent.
Shift work can be a useful option for a while. Consider the importance of good self-care and encourage your employer to be supportive during this time as well.
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