Meet Steve – Sleep Advice for Shift Workers
Steve has no problems with falling asleep or waking in the night. However, noise and light wake him up before he wants to. He often feels like he hasn’t had enough sleep. He works for six days and then has four days off, his hours varying throughout. He drinks caffeine close to bedtime. Though he sleeps relatively well, Steve often feels lethargic and irritable.
Steve should check his mattress to ensure it is supporting him properly. As he often sleeps during the day, he should make sure his décor isn’t too bright, as this could have an impact. Blackout blinds may also help him, blocking out unwanted sunlight. His bedroom temperature should be kept between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius, and he should try bedding made from natural materials, which help to maintain temperature.
Steve could benefit from a sunshine alarm clock and a portable light box, as well as earplugs. These tools will help to regulate his body clock and prevent him from being disturbed.
Steve has four different sleep times, so his routine should be informed by environmental cues rather than timings. He should not take caffeine at least six hours before sleep. Light should be used to keep him awake during his night shift. It is important he winds down properly before sleep, no matter what time he goes to bed. When he works a late or night shift, he could try a short nap around two hours before work, which will boost his energy levels. No matter what time he goes to bed, he should always try to sleep for the same amount of time.
Before bed, Steve should refrain from playing games, working or watching engrossing television. He should try yoga and meditation, alongside a warm bath or shower. He could also use the “4-7-8 technique”, where he breathes in for four seconds, holds for seven, and then breathes out with a ‘whoosh’ for eight seconds.
In the hour before bed, he should make sure lights are kept low, with the curtains shut if it’s daytime. This will help his body’s natural melatonin production.
Steve has different sleep routines, as he works three different shifts and then has days off. We are therefore concentrating on creating a calm, restful environment and a consistent routine. He should aim for seven hours sleep every day, and avoid sleeping for longer on his days off. If he feels too tired, a nap for no more than 40 minutes will give him an energy boost.
Two hours before bed: Steve should not have a heavy meal after this time, and he should also avoid exercise. If he is driving home from work in daylight, but will be sleeping when he gets home, he can wear sunglasses; this will prevent the natural light from repressing his melatonin production.
One hour before bed – The Golden Hour: Steve should start his wind down routine, where he relaxes his body and gets ready for sleep. He should not do any work or spend time on the computer or blue screen devices. If he is hungry, he should have peanut butter on granary toast or oatcakes and cheese. Before going to bed, he could have a warm bath or a shower, which will advise his body to start producing melatonin. He can than practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique, as this will reduce his stress levels and help him to switch off.
Even if Steve feels tired enough to fall straight to sleep after work, he should always try and go through this process.
Bedtime: If Steve does not get to sleep within half an hour of going to bed, he should get up and start the process again. Tossing and turning will only lead to his stress levels rising.
Wake Up: Within half an hour to an hour of getting up, Steve should be having breakfast. He should wake using natural light, so a sunshine alarm clock would be a big help. If he feels sleepy during the day, he should use naps, but for no longer than 40 minutes. Caffeine should be avoided six hours before sleep time.