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Managing Sleep Deprivation in 24/7 Shift Work

Updated: May 11, 2022

The changing nature of the workplace as more employees work outside traditional corporate office environments, away from a fixed schedule, poses numerous health risks. But before diving into the proven tips to get more rest as a shift worker, let’s have a closer look at the concept of “shift work” and its connection with the circadian rhythm.

1. What is shift work

The common knowledge is that shift workers are individuals who work at night, but according to the American National Sleep Foundation, this category includes everyone who works outside a steady schedule anytime between 7 am and 6 PM: doctors, pilots, air traffic controllers, nurses, truck drivers, police officers, firefighters, and the list could go on.

2. How does shift work impact your circadian rhythm?

The main issue with shift work is that it forces individuals to neglect their circadian rhythm - the body’s internal clock that follows a 24-hour cycle. The circadian rhythm regulates essential body functions such as temperature, sleepiness, hunger, and hormone levels. Your circadian rhythm is also influenced by sunlight exposure – this is why your need for sleep peaks from midnight to 7 am.

Shift workers need to challenge their bodies’ natural rhythms to stay at peak performance when the body requires sleep. According to Frank Scheer, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School:

“there is strong evidence that shift work is related to several serious health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.”

In general, shift workers get a daily average of two to four hours less sleep than normal and tend to be continually sleep-deprived. Some researchers believe that it takes up to three years to adjust to a shift work schedule, while others believe that the human body cannot fully adapt to an unusual sleep pattern.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the liberty to benefit from a regular sleep schedule based on the chosen career path, therefore shift work schedules are the necessary evil. However, if you work shifts, there are certain things you can do to preserve your wellness and diminish health risks:

3. How to get more rest as a shift worker

Go for consistency

Studies show that creating regularity in your sleeping habits may be of tremendous help, so try to maintain the same schedule on your days off.

Create a favourable sleeping environment

Sunlight influences your circadian rhythm, but individuals who sleep through the day also tend to sleep light due to unwanted noises. Darkness prompts the pineal gland to start producing melatonin; therefore, consider buying blackout shades and noise-blocking aids such as earplugs or white noise apps to replicate the nighttime ambient.

Engage in relaxing activities

Meditation, a warm bath, or a soothing massage will help you relax and prepare your body for sleep. Do not consume caffeine at least 4 hours prior to sleeping, and avoid alcohol. Even though alcohol does have sedative properties, it may enhance sleep disruptions due to the body breaking it down.

Avoid taking supplements by ear

Melatonin can be a beneficial sleep supplement, but you should ask for your physician’s opinion before including it in your diet.

4. What to do if you work in rotating shifts

While fixed shifts already pose numerous challenges, rotating shifts are even more troublesome, as they involve switching between sleep patterns in short periods.

It is ideal to have predictability in your rotating shifts to prepare in advance. For example, if you know that you are taking a night shift in two weeks, you are able to gradually delay your bedtime to avoid sudden changes and disruptions.

5. How can shift work rostering automation help

By adopting a staff rostering automation software like SkyRoster, companies can reduce staff absenteeism, tardiness, and dissatisfaction. Overworked staff members dealing with fatigue caused by poor scheduling are also more likely to underperform, have trouble focusing, and deal with cognitive impairments, making them prone to accidents and errors.

A rostering automation system distributes workload fairly, integrates working preferences, and keeps track of each employee’s fatigue index to prevent such risks. The features associated with personal working preferences increase employee satisfaction by offering them a say in their own work schedule in correlation with their personal lives, sleeping patterns, and even colleague compatibility.

Skyroster is the all-on-one staff rostering and workforce optimisation solution, streamlining 24/7 shift work operations, addressing the major concerns of both employees and shift planners, and promoting a healthier work-life balance. Schedule your demo here to see how it works.

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