Sep 05 2014

Sleep and Shift Work:What Employers Need to Know

Shift work provides some unique problems for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s not for everyone, but there are a lot of good points to talk about working a compressed or alternate work week, and ways to manage the added health challenges.

            Positives for Employer          Positives for Employee

·           24/7 production

·           Decrease stress on facility (work   force spread out rather than entire workforce being in facility at once)

·           Lower capital investment (increase   production without buying additional equipment)

·           Shift changes are seen as a   non-productive time

·           Generally a pay differential/salary   incentive

·           Allows for flexibility in   childcare/family issues

·           Personal preference

·           Opportunities for full-time   employment

·           Increased time during day for   school/play

·           Fewer supervisors

·           Increased autonomy at work

·           Possible management opportunities

But working a night shift does have negative effects on the human body, including the obvious ones of getting quality sleep. Insufficient sleep leads to an increased risk for a lot of health issues and shift workers have some unique ones of their own. Women tend to have more difficulties with shift work than their male colleagues, and women who work rotating shifts also see an increased risk of fertility and pregnancy complications.

Tips for employees who work a rotating  or night shift:

·         Plan your meals. Meal planning is important for everyone maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but planning meals and snacks is even more critical when trying to keep energy and alertness levels up. We naturally crave carb-heavy foods for quick energy, especially when we are tired, but these foods also lead to a crash soon after, creating a vicious cycle.

·         Many medications need to be taken with food or on an empty stomach. Take this into consideration when planning for your shift; pack meds with your meals so you don't forget.

·         Caffeine and tobacco consumption later in a shift make it difficult to wind down to sleep. If you are working a late shift, try to avoid caffeine during the latter half of your shift.

·         Staying hydrated with water helps fight fatigue.

·         Silent your phone, use blackout curtains, white noise machines to help sleep.

·         As much as possible, stick to the same sleep time and wake times on your off days. Aim for staying within an hour or two.

·         Melatonin is a natural supplement proven to help with shift-lag and jet-lag. Always discuss supplements and medications with your doctor and pharmacist. Avoid the use of OTC sleep aids for anything more than occasional insomnia.


Tips for employers to promote improved productivity with shift work:

·         Assure good lighting, temperature, and ventilation.

·         Keep workers in groups (social support helps maintain alertness and good morale).

·         Provide opportunities for rest (such as if a night shift worker has to attend a day time meeting).

·         Provide cafeteria/microwaves to promote healthy eating habits.

·         Consider childcare.

·         Promote exercise during breaks.

·         Use forward rotations instead of backward rotations for rotating shifts.

·         Inform workers well in advance in case of changes, because finding childcare and scheduling appointments can be more difficult for shift workers.

·         Be sure to provide 24+ hours off before new rotations or after a set of nights.

For other individual or organizational strategies to assist shift workers in getting quality sleep, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 501-358-6013

Katie Buehrle

Certified Athletic Trainer