Working when others are sleeping

© Anatoly Tiplyashin

Many employees work around the clock which presents a particular challenge for body and mind. Our internal clock follows the cycle of night and day and switches into sleep mode during the evening. But at this point shift workers need all their strength and concentration. The body is programmed to be active at the beginning of the day which is when the shift worker is expected to switch into sleep mode. Getting enough restful sleep is particularly important under these demanding circumstances.

1. Feeling energised for your shift

Eating light meals at fixed times is a good way to get through your shift.
• A substantial evening meal is a good start – this could be a warm meal or a whole grain bread sandwich and salad.
• A light meal with rice, vegetables, lean meat or fish at midnight are good strengthening options.
• Fruit, yoghurt, nuts, muesli or a bowl of cooked broth are good snacks to counteract the slump in energy between the hours of 4.00 am and 5.00 am.
• Drink plenty of water. Be cautious with coffee, tea and energy drinks. Caffeine acts as a stimulant for at least five hours.

Breathe deeply every now and again!
Breaks and exercise are particularly important. If you sense that you are becoming tired:
• It is important to stand up and get some fresh air.
• If you are driving, stop as soon as possible and get some exercise in the fresh air.

2. Sleeping when others are working

Your shift is over and it’s finally time to go to bed. Arrange your bedroom in such a way to ensure that you are disturbed as little as possible. Thick curtains help to block out light and noise. A sleep mask and ear plugs can also help to ensure you sleep peacefully.
• Routine is also helpful; try to get used to going to bed after your shift and getting up at fixed times.
• Turn your TV and computer off. Take some time to settle down and relax after you have finished work.
• Indulge in a few soothing rituals before you go to sleep, such as a relaxing bath, relaxing music, a cup of hot milk or herbal tea with honey.

3. Time together is valuable

Daily life does not follow the normal pattern for shift workers. This can make life difficult for partners, family members and friends. Shift workers need to find a more effective strategy than other employees who work regular hours to ensure they can achieve a good work-life balance.
The best approach is to use a diary to plan your free time. Set certain activities in stone, such as eating lunch or dinner with the family, and make arrangements when you want to do a particular activity.

Tip: Discuss individual needs

What do you need? What needs do your partner and your children have? Keep discussing these! This is the best way to ensure that your family fully understands your work pressures and is able to be considerate.

Tip: Sleep in stages

It is not important that you sleep in one long stretch. Sleeping in stages can be the best solution, especially if you have a family. For example, when working the night shift, you could sleep for four hours in the morning, then eat lunch with your family, spend some time playing and doing homework with the children and then have another three hours’ sleep during the late afternoon.

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