Shift worker and sleep

…functioning at your best

I used to be a shift worker, so understand all to well how difficult it can be to switch our biological clocks from a daytime to night time working mode. If you work shifts you’ll understand that dreaded feeling of ‘jet-lag’ as the body goes through re-adjustments.

In a previous blog I wrote about the symptoms that create the I can’t sleep’ * syndrome if we experience insomnia.   I also introduced readers to the potential of hypnosis and learned tactics that could help them with this issue.

What advice is there out there for shift workers?

Getting the Zzzz's before your night shift?

Shift worker exhaustion

There are of millions of people working night shifts.

If you are a shift worker, we rely so much on you to keep our world turning 24/7.

Those of you who run our emergency hospital care, provide police protection;  look after people in residential care.

There are  air traffic controllers, electrical grid maintenance, even in entertaining us via television transmission.


As a shift worker, you could be experiencing sleeping issues

Studies show that shift workers  may suffer:

  • A lack in the quality of sleep
  • Have shorter sleep
  • Have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

One of the reasons is due to the natural circadian rhythm which our bodies follow.

This cycle causes changes in our body temperature, which raises during daylight to promote wakefulness, and drops as the sun goes down, influencing a release of melanin which promotes sleepiness.

So, a shift worker faces the task of working when the body was designed to be in sleeping mode. This means that they may be subjected to drowsiness during their shift which increases potential errors in performance.

What’s the solution?

If your pattern is continually changing and rotating, there’s may  not be a universal magic solution, It’s really down to what works better for you.  Very often people are juggling between working different hours and any other responsibilities they may have at home.

The tips below are just suggestions you may like to try out.

Guidelines you may find helpful:

  1. If you are able to attain the same sleep/waking schedule on your days off then the body is getting a consistent rising time, combine that with regular periods of exercise and social activity then the body temperature rhythm will be synchronised.
  2. Working a shift pattern rotation will be easier if the schedule goes from day shift to evening and then night rather than in the reverse order.
  3. If moving to a new pattern for example an evening to a night you could begin to adjust your bedtime and wake-up times a few days in advance.

* (more information on experimenting on ” what’s best for you” a little later in this blog)

  1. Using bright light boxes, at the start of the ‘day’, can help the body’s internal clock to adjust and make the user more alert on the job and improve job performance.
  2.  Avoid any exposure to bright lights a few hours before you are due to go to bed.
  3. Limit the amount of caffeine on a night shift to just one cup at the beginning, any later and you will impede your ability to fall asleep when you get home.

* Alcohol also disrupts your deep sleep cycle because as it metabolises in your body it will disrupt the cycle of deep sleep, the result being that you feel less than refreshed for your next shift.

  1. At the end of your night shift if it’s daylight outside ensure that you wear dark glasses which helps prevent the sunlight’s effect on increasing your body temperature and alertness.
  2. Drowsiness can occur when driving home after a night shift, this is a potential life hazard, so why risk it?  Instead arrange alternative transport.
  3. Wind down after work, by giving yourself at least one hour before you go to bed to sleep.
  4. Limiting other disruptions to your sleep time.  Turn off the phone and door bell. Get your family or partner on board, fielding any calls or limiting any noises. Explain the importance of your sleep needs to the kids, getting their understanding may help them to help you.
  5. Darken your bedroom with heavy curtains, or a roll-down blackout blind or use an eye mask. Use ear-plugs to limit extraneous noises.            


1. Waking up – taking time to exercise (walking and experiencing the sunshine) other physical activity (the housework, the gardening) whatever energises you gets you ready for a working day.

(*more resources and ideas to experiment with  ” what’s best for you”  coming up!)

Shift work and Insomnia!

Shift working tends to be hardest on insomniacs, who have a sensitive sleep system to begin with, and older people whose body-temperature rhythms have a harder time adjusting than those of younger people.
As a shift worker practising some or all of the tips above may be just what you need to help give you the improvements that you are seeking.

Shift worker solve insomnia

Contact Maria Richards

If however you find that you require more help with your ability to get to sleep or enjoy quality sleep then you could try the 1-2-3 experiment below this article.

Or combine the 1-2-3, with getting in contact for support, and the creation of your very own hypnosis to aid sleep MP3 recording. Working either at my office or across Skype or Zoom as an on-line meeting alternative.

Working together we’d look at helping you overcome your  insomnia. Especially if they are caused by stress and worries from your day.

1, 2, 3 – Experiments you can do PLUS Links to resources in this article…

1.    * Body clocks – light therapy with many clocks at different price ranges
Wake up lights – with accompanying sounds like dawn chorus or seas waves.  The choice is yours – certainly I’ve found these clocks much more preferable to waking up to clanging alarms, or mobile phone reminders and enjoyed the light effect too.

“Interestingly the blue light spectrum is one of the reasons why it’s advisable not to use your laptop or mobile phone in bed before sleep – the blue light spectrum elevates the hormones stimulating wakefulness!”

2. Experiment on what’s best for you:

*  What works best for you could depend on how long your shift is – start time and end time.”

Keeping in mind that altering your sleep pattern a few days in advance is not always easy if you have other personal commitments – then it could be that you need to experiment a little on what works best for you.  A couple of questions to ask yourself would be:

  • Would you find it easier to delay sleep when you first start working shifts, rather than forcing earlier sleep?
  • Would it be better for you to catch some sleep a little later in the day and get up an hour or two before the start of your first night shift?

By experimenting with this in order to fit in your life priorities and following some or all of the 10+1 guidelines above you could find your unique key to improving how you feel as a shift-worker.
* BUPA pages include more on Healthy habits around diet , the household and planning your day as a shift worker.

3. The 3 day warning technique

An example of how to make a physical change to push your sleep in line with your new shift pattern and your body into sync when going from evening to night work. If you are able to structure your days then this idea could be for you,

Usual shift

  • 5:00pm to 1:00am.
  • Bedtime – 3am to 11am
  • Shift begins 5:00pm

If after the pattern finishes you are on a 3-day break, followed by:

New shift pattern starting at 11pm to 7:00am
3 days before start of new shift push your bedtime to a couple of hours later:

  • Day 1 – Bedtime           5am to 1:00pm
  • Day 2 – Bedtime           7am to 3:00pm
  • Day 3- Bedtime            8am to 4:00pm
  • Start the new shift     11pm to 7:00am
  • Day 4-Bedtime  9am to 5:00pm  and on every day after during that new shift cycle.

*Source: Best Heath Magazine report on altering your sleep pattern over a few days before a shift-change at work