How to improve your sleep as a shift worker

18 July 2019

If you work shifts, you know how much around-the-clock starting times can affect your health and wellbeing. While the physical, mental and emotional affects of shift-work are well documented, there are some ways you can help to reduce the impact of such a ‘routine’ on your body:

  • Wear dark sunglasses or orange glasses on the way home right up until you get into bed when you finish your shift in daylight. Sunlight tells your body to wake up and suppresses melatonin, so blocking this out tells your body to go into sleep mode.
  • Use blockout curtains and/or an eye mask when trying to sleep during the day.
  • Eat a healthy low GI meal before going to sleep. The meal should have a combination of complex carbs, fat and protein such as eggs on toast or porridge with nuts and yoghurt.
  • After eating, go straight to bed. Avoid other activities as they further stimulate the brain to be in ‘awake mode’.
  • If you wake after 4─5 hours, don’t get up. Lie in bed, try to relax and breathe deeply. Generally, you can fall back to sleep after 30─60 minutes. If you aim to sleep 7─9 hours your health will be much better, and you will feel a lot more human.
  • Upon rising, expose yourself to light. When the days are longer, you can go outside for at least 30 minutes. If it’s winter, you can use a light box to tell your body to wake up.
  • Try to exercise for 20─30 minutes after waking up. Research shows exercise improves all aspects of health during night shift.
  • Eat healthy meals — lots of fruits and veggies, good quality protein and fat. Avoid sugary processed foods.

Source: Nurses and Midwives Support

If you are experiencing problems with your sleep, it can be helpful to access information and support. Nurses and Midwives Support provides a confidential support line that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1800 667 877.