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The sleep issues that face shift workers (and what to do about them)

Way back in 2011 I said that it was high time we took sleep issues related to shift work more seriously.

Not only are shift workers more likely to have a workplace accident, they may even be losing brain cells.

A more recent study has found that shift workers are 9% more likely to develop diabetes compared to those with regular work patterns.

Researchers found that male shift workers were 28% more likely to develop diabetes compared to female shift workers, and that those who work rotating shifts were 42% more likely to develop diabetes compared to those with regular work patterns.

It's thought that about 15 million Americans are shift workers - so if you're one of them (and struggling with sleep), what should you do?

Medication certainly isn't the answer.

A study out of Finland looked at data from 15 trials involving over 700 individuals.

Their aim was to determine the effect of hypnotic drugs and melatonin on sleep after shift work.

Researchers found that although there was a small improvement in alertness when shift workers took a nap and drank caffeine before a night shift (and slightly better sleep when they took melatonin during the day), researchers found very little evidence to suggest that drugs were effective at improving the sleep of shift workers.

A better alternative is observing good sleep hygiene (I go through this in more detail in my free sleep training course) and observing the following tips:

  • Try to maintain a steady sleep-wake schedule throughout the week (including days off),
  • Limit interruptions during the times you set aside for sleep,
  • Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible,
  • If you work rotating shifts, try to have them rotate in a clockwise direction - for example, work days, then evenings, then nights,
  • Try to remain in bright light from the start of your shift until 2 hours before your shift ends,
  • If safe, consider wearing sunglasses for your commute home to minimize your light exposure before going to bed.


Occupational and Environmental Medicine (Shift work and diabetes risk)
Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Effectiveness of drugs)

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Last updated: November 14, 2014

This Article Was Written By

Martin Reed

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