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Sleep tips: Shift worker strategies

‘Sleep Health is the most powerful bridge from stress into resilience.'


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Hard-working people who operate late at night or extremely early are under immense strain, they undoubtedly have the toughest jobs. Here at Hypnos, we wanted to provide them with some advice for achieving some well-deserved rest.

Our sleep and wellbeing expert, Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, is on hand with some specialist advice and tips on how key workers can achieve restful sleep despite working long, unorthodox hours under stressful conditions:

"It’s absolutely crucial we look to the well-being factors we can control and influence, such as our ability to prioritise sleep and rest, day or night. Focusing on your own rest and recovery is a key part of this, particularly if you’re being asked to work hours or shifts that your body is not accustomed to.”


Tips to stay sleep healthy on shift

There are three core areas that you can control and need to consider before and during your shifts. All of these are research-led strategies proven to help both manage stress and boost recovery, naturally:

  • Try Polyphasic sleeps.
  • Utilise elastic recovery habits.
  • Sleep as an aid to help stress.

Research shows that just one night of poor sleep impairs our ability to regulate emotions - just one sleepless night can trigger up to a 30% spike in emotional stress levels and anxiety. This is why it is crucial to focus on a new way to sleep, eat and recover during times of intense pressure or during a crisis.

Developing a napping routine is an indispensable part of working safely overnight and helping you to stay refreshed. An afternoon MICRO sleep before you come on duty, which is a nap that only needs to be between 10 to 20 minutes, will help keep fatigue at bay. If you can, also try to take these short 10-minute naps over the course of a working shift when you can fit them in to help you to cope.


Polyphasic sleeps

If you are working shifts or juggling isolation, family and work, you may need to adapt your sleep routine and whilst seven to eight hours of sleep should be non-negotiable, this may have to be taken over a number of sleep sessions rather than in one long slumber. Consider improving sleep quality and hitting your 7/8hrs across 24hrs, instead of just assuming it has to be in one long sleep (not always possible in times of a crisis).

Accepting and allowing for a short period of Polyphasic Sleep (breaking up your regular hours into 2 clear shorter periods of sleep) can help you cope, manage stress and build resilience for times of intense pressure. Separating your sleep out into shorter manageable chunks can be essential for disrupted daytimes, people working unusual shifts and those needing to look after young children.

Elastic SLEEP Recovery Habits for times of pressure

Working at night, regardless of the shift pattern, can have consequences for both mental health and personal safety, as it increases the risk of fatigue.

Most people associate "elastic" with rubber bands or yoga, but the word also stands for resilience and the ability to withstand pressure.

When it comes to sleep strategies, daily elastic sleep habits are fluid, they can change their form and intensity to suit each unique day. Check out the below examples:

DAYTIME RECOVERY - Your ‘Elastic’ Sleep recovery menu to use in times of pressure

  • REST HABIT 1: If you’re tired, it’s crucial to prioritise a window of opportunity for a short or long deep sleep in bed when you can.
  • REST HABIT 2: PRE and POST SHIFT Power recover – take a lie down nap of 20-45 minutes.
  • REST HABIT 3: SOS Brain and body nap: this is a great short-term option - a lie down in a dimly lit room with restful music or a sleep meditation playing to assist mindfulness. If you don’t have access to this, silence can be just as good.

The most important thing to remember is that you need to take a proactive approach to managing sleep and fatigue – this is not something that will happen on its own.

Tips for tackling continuous LONG Shifts - Sleep Optimisation:

  • Maintain a good core sleep routine.
  • Rest with an afternoon nap or lie in before starting a night shift.
  • Water, water, water … Stay hydrated and eat nutritious foods.
  • Use your break to see the daylight. Daylight helps you stay naturally alert. On the flip side, when you want to promote sleep, stay in cool, dark, low-light rooms.

During the night shift:

  • If you’re lucky enough to get a small break – use this for complete rest.
  • Protect each other’s breaks - work as a team to provide effective cover for breaks.
  • Try to keep to your normal eating patterns and times as much as possible.
  • To protect your quality of sleep, try not to eat too much between midnight and 6am, and if you do need to watch out for the 4am dip. This is when your body’s performance naturally lowers, so take extra precautions and take a short recovery breather or rest break, as opposed to drinking coffee – the sleep blocker that’s full of caffeine

These new sleep health habits are easy to implement and if done on a daily recurrent cycle can help improve one’s sleep quality and quantity. For more tips on how to improve your sleep as well as the science behind perfect rest visit our sleep hub.