People that work night shifts often struggle to get enough quality sleep. As many as 10% of the 22 million Americans that work night and rotating shifts suffer from Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD). Symptoms may include:
- Sleepiness during work hours and insomnia during the day
- Trouble concentrating
- Negative mood states such as depression or irritability
- Feeling detached from personal relationships
- Missed work or accidents on the job
Even if you don't have SWSD, people who regularly lack enough quality sleep are at higher risk for other health problems such as heart disease, ulcers, and metabolic syndrome. Getting better sleep is a major health priority for shift workers.
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Here are some tips to get better sleep if you are a shift worker:
Be aware of the role light and dark play for triggering your body's sleep hormone cycles, the circadian rhythm.
- Use a lightbox at work, if possible.
- Make sure your sleeping quarters are extremely dark.
- Limit exposure to light after your shift by going straight home, wearing a hat and sunglasses to block light, and relaxing after work in a low light environment.
- Avoid computer and mobile screens after your shift is over.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
- Stop using stimulants such as caffeine within at least 4 hours of your shift end.
- Try to get some aerobic exercise on your break at work.
- Reserve a place in your home for sleep only and do not do other activities there.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal within a few hours of sleep.
- Establish a bedtime routine such as a shower, stretching or reading a book to help trigger sleepiness.