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Shift Work and Sleep

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

Shift work can be working overnight, early mornings or alternate between shifts. This work especially night shift work, can have consequences for the sleep and wake states, also known as circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is essential for the normal good health of a person. This circadian rhythm is disrupted in a nightshift worker Shift workers therefore have a higher prevalence of insomnia compared to non-shift workers. The poor sleep that results from disruption of circadian rhythms can lead to cognitive impairment, work under-performance, tiredness, mood swings and changes in bowel habits.

Our body’s internal clock is designed for us to be active in the day and asleep at night and the damaging effects on our health are well known. There are reports that anti-social hours can prematurely age the brain and dull intellectual ability and that night shift work is linked to obesity as employees who sleep during the day burn fewer calories than when sleeping at night.

Daytime sleep is less efficient that night time sleep as you’re constantly battling against disturbance factors – such as light, noise etc – and challenging your body’s natural circadian clock.

With an estimated 4.1million people working night shifts, it’s important that those who do understand the importance of sleep and do what they can to achieve better daytime sleep. In a recent review it has been suggested that shift workers are at an increased risk of sleep loss occupational accidents, high blood pressure, cancer, type two diabetes, weight gain and stroke.

Here are some steps to keep your sleep in check and make your environment more favourable for sleep.

  • Go to bed in good time after you come back from a night shift. The longer you delay going to bed, the more awake you are likely to become.

  • Try to set aside a block of 7 to 9 hours to dedicate to sleep after a night shift.

  • Have something to eat and drink before you go to bed. Hunger can keep you awake.

  • Stay away from activities that make you feel more alert .

  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. It may be worth investing in blackout blinds to prevent daylight entering the room and you can use earplugs to block out daytime noise.

  • It may also be a good idea to notify friends and family of your working hours so that they do not disturb you.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol before you sleep. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep, but it reduces the quality of the sleep and disturbs the deep stages of sleep. You will not have a fresh start the next day.

  • Avoid smoking before bed. Nicotine is a stimulant and can therefore cause you to experience difficulties in getting to sleep.

Namita Bhatia

Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist

Tel: 07305 595 603


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