People who work outside the hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. often face unique challenges when trying to sleep. Despite this, many guidelines on healthy sleep habits are designed for those who work during the day.
A new study tackled this issue by asking experts to weigh in on sleep habits for shift workers. To help them improve their sleep, researchers gathered a panel of over 50 international experts in sleep, shift work, and occupational health. Together, they created a list of 18 recommendations based on the latest science for healthier sleep hygiene.
In the United States, around 17% of workers clock into their jobs at night or have a rotating or irregular shift. While some can adapt their sleep schedules to shift work, most report feeling tired during waking hours. For as many as one-third of shift workers, difficulty sleeping leads to insomnia and trouble staying alert.
Many of the risks of shift work can be traced back to a mismatch between a person’s environment and their body’s internal clock. This misalignment contributes to an increased risk of accidents in the workplace, difficulty sleeping, and even health issues like obesity, diabetes, and problems with thinking and memory .
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While several of the group’s new guidelines are also relevant for daytime workers—like maintaining a consistent bedtime routine, optimizing the sleep environment, and being aware of the effects of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol—others are uniquely designed for shift workers. These new guidelines suggest several ways that shift workers can improve their sleep:
- Make sleep a priority. Reschedule daytime activities and tell your family and friends about your sleep schedule
- Get enough sleep every day, either all at once or by taking naps
- Create a dedicated sleep schedule for each type of shift you work
- Avoid tasks that can be risky if you are still groggy right after waking up
- Block out daylight with window coverings or an eye mask
- Talk to a doctor about how medicines may affect your sleep
- Be careful about eating or drinking near bedtime
- Make a plan for when it’s difficult to sleep and talk to a doctor if sleep problems persist
- On days off, try taking a short nap in the morning and getting into bed earlier than usual
For the millions of shift workers who struggle to feel rested, these new guidelines offer practical steps for improving sleep and reducing the risks of sleep loss. They also underline the importance of personalized sleep strategies for those clocking in while the rest of the world clocks out.