Shift Work Can Cause Sleep Problems, 6 Tips to Help you Fall Asleep Faster

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Just because you manage to fall asleep each night does not mean you know how to fall asleep effectively. You can use several techniques to help you lose sleep at night and help you become a healthier person.

Shift work is a fact of life. 

Shift work is a fact of life for many people and is increasingly common as our 24-hour society evolves. But people who work outside the standard office hours of 9-5 are particularly prone to sleep problems since their work time often overlaps with their natural sleep time.

The standard shifts are 7 am – 3 pm, 3 pm – 11 pm, and the night shift 11 pm – 7 am, which encompasses the usual sleep time for individuals. Around 1 in 5 people who work shifts report falling asleep during work. Most shift workers also experience a reduced amount of sleep and poorer quality sleep than those not working shifts.

When you are tired, your concentration decreases, leading to accidents at work and while traveling there and back. It is perilous if the work involves operating machinery where injuries can happen if concentration lapses. Being constantly tired is detrimental to all aspects of a person’s life, including their health and social time, so it’s not just at work that the adverse effects appear.

Nurse suffering from Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).  A circadian rhythm sleep disorder that can affect people who work non traditional hours.
Pictured: A nurse who works shift work becomes more susceptible to (SWSD) Shift work sleep disorder, which affects people who work nontraditional hours.

Almost 70% of nurses in some fields suffer from sleep disturbance, with night shift work being a major contributing factor.

Your body has a 24-hour circadian rhythm that tells you when to sleep and wake up, usually according to the day and night time. Deliberately staying awake all night and then trying to sleep during daylight hours is a difficult adjustment for your body, and it can take a long time to adapt.

Whether you work the same shift or mix different ones, it’s likely that during days off, you will go back to ‘normal’ waking and sleeping times to fit in with friends and family. This makes it even harder to get used to the shift sleeping pattern.

There are a few simple ways people can improve their sleep around whichever shifts they are working, but the most important is to prioritise sleep. People’s health and safety need to get enough sleep to function correctly, so if you find yourself dropping off at work, try to find a couple more hours each day to rest.

Having people at home to be considerate of your sleep can be a big help, too. Ask them to avoid vacuuming, listening to loud music, or coming in and out of your bedroom while trying to sleep. If you are alone, turn the phone ringer off so calls from daytime telemarketers don’t wake you, and get some blackout curtains in the bedroom to simulate nighttime.

Regulate your internal clock.

The body’s biological clock reacts to sunlight and darkness like you use your watch to tell the time. Exposure to sunlight early in the morning can help you sleep better at night, as studies show that people deprived of sunlight have more trouble sleeping at night and are often more tired than their counterparts who get up and spend some time outdoors in the early morning.

Pictured: Visual representation of the Circadian rhythm is an educational natural cycle for healthy sleep and routine.

Change your bed and your pillow.

A worn-out bed or pillow will make you uncomfortable when trying to sleep at night. Consider replacing a mattress over five years old, and replace your pillows at least once every two years.

Exercise more to sleep better.

Whether you don’t exercise because you’re too tired or you feel that you don’t have time, chances are you have put yourself in this position precisely because you don’t get enough sleep.

Resistance exercising.
Based on available studies, Exercising also improves sleep. Moderate to vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality for adults by reducing sleep onset – or the time it takes to fall asleep 

Expert studies in US sports science facilities have shown that people who vigorously exercise for 20 minutes per day, 4-6 hours before going to bed, are likely to fall asleep more quickly than people who either don’t exercise at all or who exercise earlier in the day.

Any type of cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart pumping fast for at least 20 minutes is suitable for better health and helps you to get a good night’s sleep.

Manage stress levels to fall asleep faster.

We all lead more hectic lifestyles than people used to fifty years ago, so it is becoming almost impossible not to get stressed out. But we can learn to manage stress effectively to help us sleep better and feel healthier.

Reducing mental stress on the body means you won’t spend hours tossing and turning while sleeping. And in turn, more sleep helps reduce stress levels further.

Make a good sleep environment. Consider evaluating your sleep environment for possible stressors. Try room-darkening window treatments, heavy curtains, or an eye mask to eliminate as much natural light as possible.

Getting enough sleep after shift work can be challenging, but there are several strategies you can use to improve your chances of getting a good night’s rest:

Before your shift:

  • Maximise light exposure: Get plenty of bright light during your waking hours, especially during your shift. This helps regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm).
  • Minimise light exposure before sleep: Avoid bright screens and artificial light for at least an hour before bedtime. Wear sunglasses on your commute home and use blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out sunlight.

Create a sleep-conducive environment:

  • Make your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet: Use earplugs, a white noise machine, and blackout curtains to create a peaceful sleep environment.
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows: Ensure your bedding is supportive and promotes good sleep posture.
  • Keep your bedroom for sleep and sex only: Avoid working, watching TV, or using electronic devices in bed.

Develop a consistent sleep schedule:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on your days off. This helps regulate your circadian rhythm and makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
  • Avoid napping for long periods: If you need to nap, keep it short (20-30 minutes) and avoid napping too close to bedtime.

Lifestyle habits:

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake: Both substances can interfere with sleep quality. Avoid caffeine close to bedtime and limit alcohol consumption in general.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity can improve sleep quality, but avoid strenuous exercise too close to bedtime.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine: Wind down before bed with activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or listening to calming music.
  • Avoid heavy meals before bed: A light, healthy snack is fine, but avoid large meals that can disrupt your sleep.
  • Manage stress: Chronic stress can make it difficult to sleep. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation before bed.

Declutter your room. Keeping your bedroom tidy and removing any potential distractions is essential for your body to begin to relax.

Is your bedroom small? Consider an ottoman storage bed and get rid of the clutter. Keeping your bedroom clutter-free can help you feel more relaxed.

Felix 4FT 6 Double Ottoman Bed - Grey.
Pictured: Felix 4FT 6 Double Ottoman Bed – Grey (priced at only £288)

Watch your diet

There are several ways you can change your diet to help you fall asleep faster. Changing the type of foods you eat – to more of an organic diet – enables you to stay away from caffeine and sugar, which prevent you from falling asleep fast.

Changing the way you plan your meals is also thought to make a big difference in the way you fall asleep. Scientists now recommend eating your largest meal in the morning, followed by lighter afternoon and evening meals. This helps to fuel your body during the day when you most need your energy.

Healthy Food
Pictured: Healthy Organic foods to improve your diet – There are many free apps to help you monitor and eat more healthily.

Alternative Sleep Ideas

There’s growing evidence that alternative and complementary therapies can help improve sleep. But how do you know what will work for you and what’s just an old wives tale?

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer since everyone reacts differently to these therapies, but there are patterns, so trial and error is the most likely way to help you sleep right.

Why not try keeping a sleep journal to keep track of your progress so you can identify what works for you?

See the link at the bottom of this post on how to keep a sleep diary or journal.

Essential oils have been shown to relieve insomnia and sleep disorders, and we’ve listed a few of the more common ones below:

  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Sandalwood
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Ylang ylang
Essential oils to help you sleep.
Pictured: Selection of essential oils with various herbs and flowers in the background.

These are (generally) non-toxic and non-irritant, so a few drops in your bath before bed or sprinkled under your pillow may aid your sleep. They are primarily helpful in relaxation and reducing anxiety, which helps you drop off quicker and hopefully wake up less frequently. You might be amazed that just by making your bedroom smell differently, you may be able to fall asleep more easily.

Massage is another good way of using aromatherapy oils, and it has the added benefit of relaxing muscles. Alas, most of us can’t have a massage before bed every night, but if you are especially stressed or having bad problems sleeping, this technique may be worth a try.

Acupuncture is extremely popular in some parts of the world and is becoming more common in the West as an alternative therapy. It involves inserting very fine needles into specific skin points and has a good reputation for helping insomnia.

Meditation involves focusing on one thought or thing and is highly effective at quieting the mind and relaxing the body. Meditation techniques can be learned and are helpful if worrying before bed or winding down is a problem.

There are some beneficial meditation and sleep apps available that may help with meditation; we have created a post about these below:

The stretches and focus on breathing that yoga entails are benefits similar to meditation. It combines exercise and relaxation in a way many people find improves their sleep.

Video: Yoga for beginners. Practicing yoga regularly can help you to manage symptoms of insomnia. You may be able to fall asleep quicker, sleep for longer, and go back to sleep after waking up at night.

Alternative therapies are mainly safe to try, and the worst that will happen is not seeing any results. Some people, however, may react to essential oils, or it can affect other medicines used, so always consult your GP before taking a new supplement or trying any of these treatments.

Of course, none of the above can make up for a bed that’s not right, so what not? Check out our extensive range of mattresses. We make it easy to find the right bed that will let you have sweet dreams all night long. 

Additional tips:

  • Talk to your doctor: If you’re having trouble sleeping despite trying these tips, talk to your doctor. They may be able to identify any underlying medical conditions that are affecting your sleep and recommend additional treatment options.
  • Consider melatonin: Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate sleep. Talk to your doctor about whether melatonin supplements might be right for you.

Remember, consistency is key! Sticking to a regular sleep schedule and healthy sleep habits will help you get the rest you need, even with a challenging shift work schedule.

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