Skip to content

Shift Work: Shift Sleep

Shift Work

Almost 15 million workers are considered shift workers in America. 1 Shift work is known as working long shifts with little time off, usually including a night shift or rotating shifts. While this type of work increases productivity, it has the potential to reap havoc on the sleep patterns of those affected. The most common type of shift work is known as the “seven swing” in which there are seven days of work with an eight-hour morning shift followed by two days of rest. 2 Following the rest the individual will work another seven days with eight-hour night shifts and continuing the pattern with different shifts. 1 This type of schedule will essentially be like traveling and never being on a consistent sleep schedule. This causes these workers to exhibit the symptoms of jet lag on a nearly consistent basis.

Shift work is common for doctors, nurses, commercial drivers and law enforcement officials. Shift workers typically do 400 more hours of work a year than individuals with a typical 40-hour work week.  2

Because shift-workers are never on a consistent schedule, they typically have a hard time going to sleep and staying awake at work because their circadian rhythm is irregular. The circadian rhythm is regulated by the cycles of light and dark throughout the day. 3 The occasional weekend off tends to leave the worker with no other choice than to attempt to catch up on sleep, which leads to neglect of family, friends and other aspects of life important to the individual. Shift workers often use alcohol to help fall asleep and cigarettes and caffeine to help stay awake. 2 These techniques only serve to make sleeping more difficult.

Because of the intense stressors on the lives of shift workers, 70 percent report having difficulty falling asleep and average one to two hours less sleep than typical 40-hour a week workers. 2

How Shift Workers Can Improve Sleep

  • Take a nap two hours before your shift begins to help make up for lost sleep.
  • Stay physically fit and exercise as regularly as possible to help with fatigue.
  • Avoid caffeine in the last hour of a work shift.
  • Eat a snack at the same time each day during a shift to establish a routine.
  • Avoid alcohol as a means to induce sleep.
  • Try to prepare for your upcoming sleep schedule on your days off by staying up and sleeping later to prepare for an evening shift, for example.
  • Wake up at the same time every day during your work week and eat regular meals.

Shift work has proven to be very harmful to workers’ personal lives and sleep patterns. Though this productive concept of work allows more time to be spent on a job, it leaves workers exhausted and unable to focus on tasks. Taking simple steps to try to avoid complete fatigue and related accidents because of lack of focus. Sleep remains the most important aspect in keeping the body healthy and keeping healthy sleep habits is vital to living a fulfilled life.


1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention—Work Schedules: Shift Work and Long Work Hours;

2. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

3.  WebMD—Shift Work Sleep Disorder;

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. this article makes me happy that i dont work shifts

    September 24, 2012
  2. Thank you for the great article and tips! My husband works an overnight swing shift and he is never not tired. I am worried about how this is affecting his health, so i appreciate this type of information!

    September 24, 2012
  3. these are all great tips. i do not work shifts that much, but if i ever go back to it i will definitely take these under advisement.

    September 24, 2012
  4. My husband is a paid firefighter in a big city and is on call 24/7. A good night’s sleep is a rarity for him. So when he does rest we try to keep it quiet and keep him comfortable. (Patricia H.)

    September 24, 2012
  5. thanx for an amazing comp x would love to win x

    September 24, 2012
  6. My son (21) is on shifts & his sleep is all over the place & eating at strange times due to this, I don’t know what to do to help him, x

    September 24, 2012
  7. Im going to have to try these tips , its been a long time since I had a really good nights sleep and my body feels it really bad .

    September 24, 2012
  8. Good advice!

    September 24, 2012
  9. Great tips for getting a better night’s rest!

    September 24, 2012
  10. Great tips! I’m going to pass them along to my daughter, who is a shift worker.

    September 24, 2012
  11. This is a very helpful article!! I didn’t realize that taking a nap 2 hours before the shift could help…and that caffeine should be avoided toward the end of a shift! Thanks!

    September 24, 2012
  12. shift work is not good for family life either

    September 24, 2012
  13. I am so thankful not to have to work outside of the home however I can relate to some degree having a newborn I try to sleep when she sleeps but it can be difficult to sleep on demand! I hope I win a pillow 🙂 -bethany nelson

    September 24, 2012
  14. Taking a nap is key. You will feel refreshed after it.

    September 24, 2012
  15. Having worked night shift for 16 years, I learned a lot about the no caffiene after a certain time. I never drank coffee or cokes after 4 am.

    September 24, 2012
  16. Very interesting article, learned a few things. Thank you

    September 24, 2012
  17. Great article! Thanks! Would love to win a pillow!

    September 24, 2012
  18. Great tips! Thank you!

    September 24, 2012
  19. Very good tips!

    September 24, 2012
  20. Like the specific, practical tips included in the article. Thanks!

    September 25, 2012
  21. love the tips! thank you!

    September 25, 2012
  22. A good nights sleep can be a problem for everyone. The best way to fix it is to get a mattress from BedinABox!

    September 25, 2012
  23. Thank you for this article. I am going to pass on the tips to my bf who is a very hard worker and needs his sleep!

    October 1, 2012

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: