Graveyard Shift – Tips for Shiftworkers

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

May 22, 2010

better sleep, caffeine, jet-lag, shift-work

Shiftworkers often feel like they have permanent jet lag. In today’s fast paced society shiftwork cannot be avoided. The following tips will help you deal with the effects of shiftwork.

  1. If you have to work rotating shifts, then make sure they move from days to evenings to nights in a clockwise manner. The body adapts to this method more readily because it is easier for the body to lengthen the day, than shorten it.
  2. Don’t rotate the shifts any faster than every 3 weeks. This will give your body time to adapt to the new schedule. Rotating every week results in chronic readjustment. It usually takes about 2 or 3 weeks before we are fully adjusted to a total day-night reversal.
  3. If you work a regular shift, try to maintain the same schedule on your days off.
  4. If you work rotating shifts, begin to adjust your schedule before you move to the new shift. Shift your sleep time 1 to 2 hours per day in order to ease into your new schedule and remember to shift your schedule in a clockwise manner.
  5. When you sleep, do as much as you can to keep external stimuli from disrupting you. Wear earplugs, turn off the phone ringer, use a white noise generator to drown out background noise, install dark curtains and/or wear an eye mask.
  6. If you are sleeping during the daytime and you have to interrupt your sleep, wear specially designed sunglasses to block as much sunlight as possible. This will keep your body in tune with sleep. Also, wear these special sunglasses on your drive home from work to help your body think it is the evening.
  7. Maintain good sleep hygiene.
  8. Only consume caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate) early in your graveyard shift.
  9. Avoid heavy, spicy or hard to digest foods when eating on the graveyard shift. Digestive secretions follow a day-night pattern. When you eat at night you are taking in food at a time when your stomach isn’t ready to digest it. This is why shiftworkers tend to have more peptic ulcers than non-shiftworkers.

If you need more help with shiftwork, talk to Clinton. He regularly travels to workplaces to provide seminars to help shiftworkers and he would be happy to travel to your organization.

Thanks to L. Orr, BA, RPSGT for her help with this list.

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