Sleep Tips for Shift Workers

Shift work is associated with many health problems.  The article below gives a meta analysis of the problem.

Health consequences of shift work and insufficient sleep

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 01 November 2016)Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5210

1.      Göran Kecklund, associate professor1 2

2.      John Axelsson, associate professor3

Author affiliations

1.      Correspondence to: G Kecklund


This review summarizes the literature on shift work and its relation to insufficient sleep, chronic diseases, and accidents. It is based on 38 meta-analyses and 24 systematic reviews, with additional narrative reviews and articles used for outlining possible mechanisms by which shift work may cause accidents and adverse health. Evidence shows that the effect of shift work on sleep mainly concerns acute sleep loss in connection with night shifts and early morning shifts. A link also exists between shift work and accidents, type 2 diabetes (relative risk range 1.09-1.40), weight gain, coronary heart disease (relative risk 1.23), stroke (relative risk 1.05), and cancer (relative risk range 1.01-1.32), although the original studies showed mixed results. The relations of shift work to cardiometabolic diseases and accidents mimic those with insufficient sleep. Laboratory studies indicate that cardiometabolic stress and cognitive impairments are increased by shift work, as well as by sleep loss. Given that the health and safety consequences of shift work and insufficient sleep are very similar, they are likely to share common mechanisms. However, additional research is needed to determine whether insufficient sleep is a causal pathway for the adverse health effects associated with shift work.

Sleep Tips for Shift Workers

Take a nap during a break or before reporting to work.  Short naps (20-30 minutes) can improve alertness on the job.

Work clockwise.  If you work rotating shifts, request that succeeding shifts start later than your last shift.  This will help your body adjust.

Plan ahead for changes in your shift-work schedule.  Adjust your sleep times 3 days in advance of a change in your work schedule.

Avoid exposure to sunlight if you need to sleep during the day.  Wear dark glasses to block out the sun on your way home.

If possible, have someone drive you home or take public transportation after a night shift.  Drowsy driving puts you and others at risk.

Maintain a consistent nonwork schedule.  Keep the same bedtime and wake time, even on weekends.  Keeping a routine helps your body know when to be alert and when to sleep.

Eliminate noise and light in your sleep environment.  Use room-darkening shades or drapes.  Use a sleep mask and/or earplugs.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.  All 3 substances are known to disrupt sleep.  While alcohol may induce sleep, the quality of the sleep is often fragmented.

Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.  Junk food and foods with high sugar and/or fat content can increase your metabolism.

Relax before bed.  Unwind after work.  Engage in relaxing activities prior to going to sleep.

Seek professional help.  If you experience ongoing sleep problems, ask a health care provider if melatonin, medications, bright light therapy, or a sleep study are appropriate options for you.