Working the Night Shift

Your body is programmed to sleep best overnight and be most alert during the day. But what if you are one of the 15-20 per cent of workers in industrialised countries currently employed in shiftwork?

Industries ranging from health, emergency services and manufacturing to hospitality and mining rely on workers 24/7, meaning many need to work throughout the night, and sleep during the day.

Our preference to sleep at night is not due to habit or convenience, it is driven by our body clock. Many hormones in the body work to keep us active during daylight hours and to rest at night, and it is not easy to switch this around.

If you regularly work the night shift, it can be difficult to get enough sleep or to sleep well during the day. The average shiftworker sleeps one hour a day less than people who work regular hours. This can lead to being tired, both on and off the job, making it harder to concentrate and be alert when at work, and increasing the risk of accidents at work and when driving.

What you can do

Some recommendations:

  • Prioritise sleep. You have to sleep when others are awake, so encourage others when you live to respect this.
  • Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Control noise. You may need to remove the phone from the bedroom and have heavy carpet or curtains to absorb any noise. A fan or ‘white noise’ machine can also help muffle noise.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Avoid caffeine, sleeping pills, alcohol or cigarettes before going to bed.
  • If you can, sleep just before going to work. If this is not possible, taking a nap before going to work may help.
  • If you are allowed to take a break during your shift, use it for a short nap. A nap should be no longer than 15 minutes, after which a five-minute walk can help you wake up properly.
  • If you have any say when it comes to your shifts, rotate them forwards (morning to afternoon to evening to night) rather than backwards.