Shift can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean it has to impact your physical, mental, and sleep health negatively. With the proper steps and strategies, you can combat negative health impacts and take advantage of all the benefits shift work offers, like an easy commute, free time during the day, and the ability to do meaningful work you enjoy.
If you want to have a positive shift work experience and wake up each afternoon feeling well-rested and energised, here are a few best practices for you to consider:
Prioritise your sleep hygiene
Shift work may involve working non-traditional hours. However, just because you can’t sleep during traditional sleeping hours does not mean that you have to have poor sleep quality.
If you prioritise your sleep hygiene, you’ll find that you can feel well rested, even while working nights.
Here are a few steps to practice good sleep hygiene and improve your sleep quality.
Avoid looking at screens before bed
The blue light emitted by many televisions, phones, and laptop screens can negatively affect sleep quality. According to Harvard Health, light exposure at night will lower melatonin levels and disrupt the circadian rhythm. Although it might be tempting to scroll through social media or watch a television show before bed, it will make it harder for you to fall asleep.
If you must have screen time before bed, blue-light filter apps and blue-light glasses are available.
Buy blackout curtains or an eye mask
In the same way you should avoid looking at screens, you should also avoid exposure to light before you sleep for the day.
Investing in blackout curtains or a comfortably fitting eye mask can help you block out all light sources in your room so that you can sleep without disruptions.
Communicate your sleep needs
If you have family members, roommates, or friends that tend to make a lot of noise during the day, be open with them about your sleep needs.
Your significant other may not realise that vacuuming in the morning will disrupt your sleep, or your kids may not think it’s a big deal to play loudly outside your room.
Good sleep hygiene involves minimising noise, which means you must communicate the importance of your sleep needs to anyone who lives with you.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
If you go to bed at different times each day, it will be challenging for your body to get into a rhythm. You want to get to the point where your body naturally starts to feel tired around a certain time and alert at others.
When you develop a consistent sleep schedule, your body’s internal clock will start to signal when it is time for you to wake up in the afternoon and fall asleep in the morning, helping to shift your circadian rhythm in your favour.
Only use your bed for sleeping
Reading, watching television, playing video games, or doing other activities in your bed can help your body start to feel tired when you get into bed in the morning. If you know that every time you get in your bed, you will be doing a sleep-related activity, your body will associate your bed with sleeping, which will help you fall asleep more quickly.
Lower the temperature
Keep the temperature down in your room for more comfortable sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, a lower temperature will help signal the body that it is time to sleep. As your body releases melatonin, its core body temperature tends to drop.
Doctors recommend that the optimal sleep temperature that garners the best sleep results is between 15 to 19° C.
Spend time outside each day
Depending on when they have to arrive at work and when they get to head home to sleep, many shift workers often have minimal exposure to daylight. Some may not even get the chance to see any sunlight on days when they are scheduled to work.
Although some people may only consider this a minor annoyance, missing out on daylight is detrimental for shift workers.
Serotonin is known as the “happiness hormone” for a reason. This hormone is a natural mood booster that helps combat depression and stress while also improving sleep quality. Since shift workers are 33% more likely to experience depression and at a greater risk of developing shift work sleep disorder and insomnia than those who work traditional schedules, maintaining adequate serotonin levels is essential.
Prevent yourself from missing out on the benefits of natural sunlight by prioritising spending time outside during daylight hours every single day.
Even if you can only manage a quick walk outside in the afternoon right before your shift or a few moments breathing in the fresh air and taking in sunlight when you wake up after working the night shift, these moments you spend outside will make a world of difference.