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Sleep and the Shift Worker
On the face of it shift work and flexible work patterns can seem like great options. Part of the appeal may be that you are free to do things when others are working. You can shop, visit places, do things with relative ease.
Both from a business and operational perspective change and flexible working patterns provide full 24 hour cover and the means to maximize efficiency during opening hours. They are used effectively in retail, call centers, medical, security, catering, hospitality, the emergency services and in taxi or delivery driving at night.
But for the worker, reality often sets in that the people you want to spend time with are busy, at work, or you’re unavailable because you’re catching up on some desperately needed sleep. Shift workers often average only 5-6 hours of sleep per stretch, down from the more usual 7-8 hours. This can lead to stress, FOMO, a sense of isolation and ultimately health concerns.
And for the retailer shift work can take its toll on your staff, who are statistically more predisposed to suffer from insomnia and sleep-related problems, resulting in more accidents, poor concentration and absenteeism. Mental health can be affected over time, potentially leading to depression, reduced work performance and difficulties with personal relationships.
Here are some tips for dealing with flexible and changing work patterns;
– Rotational change patterns have been found to wreak havoc with the circadian body clock and can ultimately result in problematic sleep patterns developing. Try, whenever possible, to maintain a similar bedtime routine, even when it doesn’t work. If possible, arrange a shift pattern that allows days off between night shifts to recover. Aim to maintain a consistent routine to get your body rhythms right.
– Some employers appreciate that sleep is a problem for the on-duty worker and offer on-site employees 20-minute sleep breaks during their shifts. Accept the offer and get rid of the extreme fatigue. It has been found to be a viable and effective means of supporting and maintaining a healthier workforce, as many employers are aware that absenteeism, poor performance and many work-related accidents can be attributed to stress and lack of sleep.
– Morale can be affected when staff find themselves regularly missing out on important family and social events due to their flexible work schedules. FOMO, guilt and problems with personal relationships need to be addressed. A sensitive employer will appreciate the benefits of supporting good, trained staff, will not want to lose them and will aim to offer open doors, training and be as helpful as possible.
– Be active and keep your energy levels up during breaks. Get some fresh air, walk, run, even exercise and get your circulation levels up. Take healthy food and water.
– Manage your caffeine. At the beginning of a shift it’s important to stay awake, but when you’re nearing the end of a shift and thinking about getting some sleep, it’s helpful to keep your caffeine levels to a minimum.
– Be aware that the most sleepy time it’s between 4-5 am, so make sure there are tasks that keep you alert and interested; avoid saving tedious or boring jobs until the end of your shift.
– How long do you travel to work? Try to maximize your rest time if possible by avoiding long drives or running errands on the way home, which will often serve to keep you awake and prevent you from falling asleep. If you feel sleepy while driving (and shift workers are almost twice as likely to fall asleep at the wheel) consider driving without shoes, keeping the window down, singing along to the radio.
– Talk and share helpful tips and tips with co-workers and colleagues. Find out how they cope and learn from each other.
– Sleep can be fleeting and difficult to plan. Some shift workers find that getting enough sleep becomes a major concern, constantly playing on their minds. It can be stressful trying to maintain a semblance of a normal life, wanting to socialize, nurture relationships, keep in touch with family and friends during work shifts. Even eating at unusual times can throw life into disarray, especially for those with flexible work patterns where each week has a different schedule.
– Daytime sleeping can be difficult with all sorts of distractions, from the practical considerations of coping with daylight and outside noises to guilt about all the things we could, must, should do. Negotiations with ourselves about how little sleep we can manage are a regular occurrence, as is the desire to have a normal life outside of work.
– Maintain good sleep making sure your bedroom is dark and comfortable. Maybe use blackout curtains. We are programmed to sleep at night and wake up when it is daylight. Ask housemates to be respectful and keep noise to a minimum for a few hours. An eye mask or earplugs can help. Turn your phone on silent.
Shift work can be a useful option for time. Be aware of the importance of good self-care and encourage your employer to be supportive during this time as well.
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