Working Round The Clock
Sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing, yet it is estimated that 40% of the population suffer from sleep issues and many do not get the support that they need. Poor sleep impacts significantly on a day-to-day life and has a major impact on absenteeism and presenteeism. Sleep deprivation can have a seriously damaging effect on our mental and physical health, and also on job retention and performance.
A worker sleeping less than six hours per night loses around six working days due to absenteeism or presenteeism per year.
Shift work is harmful to sleep. Our body’s internal clock is designed for us to be active in the day and asleep at night and the damaging effects on health are well known. There are reports that anti-social hours can prematurely age the brain and dull intellectual ability and that night shift work is linked to obesity as employees who sleep during the day burn fewer calories than when sleeping at night.
With an estimated 4.1 million people working night shifts in South Africa, a lack of quality sleep can lead to issues ranging from sleepiness and fatigue in the workplace to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, errors and injuries.
Because of the different sleep times, bedtime routines should be taken from environmental cues rather than timings. The combination of shift work and added stress is a double whammy and strategies are needed to help with relaxation and to handle changing sleep patterns or to get the most out of broken sleep
Make sure the sleeping environment is as conducive to rest as possible.
It needs to be cool, quiet, dark and make sure you’re sleeping on a comfortable bed. Invest in blackout curtains or blinds to block out light and if needs be, use an eye mask too. Use earplugs to muffle external noise and talk to your partner, family or housemates about keeping any internal noise to a minimum.
Consider what you’re eating and drinking.
Try not to rely on caffeinated drinks to keep you awake during the night as it will make it more difficult to fall asleep later. Avoid caffeine consumption five to six hours before going to sleep. Swap a large, heavy meal for a something lighter and resist the temptation to eat fatty, processed foods.
It’s still important to wind down properly before sleep no matter what time you go to bed. Rather than using electronic devices, try yoga, meditation or reading. There are also breathing exercises that can be practised which are great for relaxing and reducing stress levels.
The AA recognises that drivers who work shifts as being a high-risk group for fatigue-related car accidents, especially at the end of a night shift or a long shift. If you must drive, you may find exercising briefly before your journey helps you to feel more alert. Delay your journey and have a power nap if you feel sleepy.
If possible wear sunglasses on the way home from work – daylight will encourage your brain to feel awake and reduce your chance of getting good quality sleep. Be cautious of wearing sunglasses however if you are driving!
Shift work can lead to a condition known as shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) a circadian rhythm sleep disorder that affects people who work non-traditional hours e.g. different shifts or work at night. Many shift workers often feel like they haven’t had enough sleep and though they may sleep well, often find themselves lethargic and irritable and have difficulty concentrating. For people with shift work sleep disorder, this becomes an ongoing problem and starts to interfere with family life and work.
Symptoms can include:
Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
Microsleeps – which last just a few seconds
Lack of energy