A Business Week article has previously reported that catching a nap at work is getting the go-ahead in the traditional 9-to-5 workplace.
Not your normal 9 to 5
That’s great news, but the article didn’t really talk about those with “non-traditional” or shift work schedules – people who regularly work something other than a consistent, weekday, 9 am to 5 pm routine. 33% of British men and 22% of British women do shift work. These shifts can involve regular night shifts, or a rotating combination of night and day shifts. For many Britons who work jobs that require these kinds of shifts – everyone from firefighters to air-traffic controllers to hospital physicians – getting enough high-quality sleep is a particular challenge.
What about them?
Shift work sleep
Just how much more difficult is sleep for people who work shifts? Those who work the night shift report 4-6 hours of sleep a night, compared to the 8.5 and 7.5 hours that morning and afternoon shift workers get. On top of that, they tend to report more awakenings and disrupted sleep than others workers.
At odds with the world and biology
As if that wasn’t enough, there is then the added challenges of trying to override biological urge and meet social and familial obligations while balancing employment, all on a schedule at odds with the culture that surrounds them. If anyone could use a nap under a desk, it is likely to be the nurse or police officer or factory worker who’s working shifts.
Waking up to shift work sleep problems
The good news is that maintaining good health through sleep is becoming a bigger priority in modern life. A number of studies about the sleepiness of doctors and med students during their rounds, has alerted the medical community – and the public at large – to the links between a reduction in shift time and a significant decrease in medical errors.
Several organisations are taking steps to reduce the number of “on call” hours medical personnel are required to work without a break. In addition, consulting firms, workers rights’ groups, and unions are calling on employers and local communities to rethink current scheduling and break policies.
There are public safety campaigns against drowsy driving (a common side effect of shift work). Even napping while at work does seem to be less of a covert affair for some shift workers.
How to sleep well on a shift schedule
All that said, biology is biology, and (most of us) need to work to put food on the table. To make the most of a shift-work schedule, try the following tips both on and off the clock.
1. Take a Nap.
Twenty minutes of sleep can do wonders for you. When my mother worked in a hospital, she’d sometimes catch a quick nap in an empty bed after a long shift. I myself have napped in a supply closet (among other places). Not terribly stylish, but it certainly felt good!
2. Stick to a schedule.
Routine is important to your overall health and sleep so go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even weekends and days off.If your work schedule fluctuates, speak to your boss about avoiding the dreaded back-to-back night shift/morning shift schedule. Take any scheduled breaks that you have. This helps with tips 1 and 2.
3. Get your family involved.
Opting to spend time with your family can cut into hours of sleep but working out a compromise can help you have your cake and eat it too. For example, Mom sleeps from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the family has dinner together at 6 p.m.
4. Control the noise.
Trying to sleep when almost everyone else is awake can be difficult, not least because of the daytime noise. Invest in earplugs or try using a fan or try the S+ app feature, Relax to Sleep, to help block out the sounds of everyone else up and about. If family noise is part of this problem, see rule 4.
5. Cross over to the dark side.
Like noise, light can be a real sleep stealer. Make sure your bedroom (or nap room) is nice and dark. An eye mask is an inexpensive solution to black out curtain (and can be used during your work nap).