Need advice or help with your sleep/shift patterns?

We’re here to help: it’s our dream job.

If your job involves shift work, you’re likely to need some extra help or advice on how to maintain the right amount of sleep to keep you healthy at home, and safe at work.

Sleep deprivation has been linked to some of the largest industrial accidents in recent memory, including the Three Mile Island nuclear accident (4am); Chernobyl (1.30am); the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Our medical teams often face a range of questions from candidates who are new to, or struggling with, shift patterns. Dr Dan Hegarty deals with some common concerns, here, to help you make the right decisions.

We’ve all sat next to someone who’s fallen asleep on the train – how often have you wondered whether they were going to or coming back from work, or why they’re so tired, and what effect that will have on their performance or their colleagues’ safety?

‘Sleep issues have never been more important. Lack of sleep causes a whole range of health issues, from increased weight gain, to lack of concentration through to a number of mental health conditions. We’re working harder for longer hours – and there have never been more distractions to keep us awake.

We don’t just sleep in our bedrooms any more. We watch TV, eat, browse on electronic devices – not exactly conducive to a calm, relaxing night’s rest.

So what should we do to help ourselves to regain balance and ensure we wake up ready for the day, rather than planning when we can get back under the duvet?

What we know

Most adults need between 7 and 8 hours sleep a night, although this amount decreases with age. And, obviously, it can be harder to sleep in the daytime than at night, because it’s lighter and there are more noisy distractions.

If you’re trying to find a suitable sleep pattern that works for you, those you live with and those you work with, it can be helpful to keep a sleep diary, so you can work out when it’s best for you personally to get the best quality sleep. Once you’ve found that ideal pattern, try to stick to it. That pattern might include:

Creating a restful place to sleep

  • Sleep in a designated part of the house and make sure it’s dark, cool and comfortable
  • Ensure it’s as quiet as possible. If there is outside noise, or you’re trying to sleep while others are awake, either ask them to keep noise to a minimum (nicely, it’s not always possible) or invest in some earplugs
  • Use heavy curtains or blackout blinds to keep the room as dark as possible.

The right frame of mind

  • Go for a walk, listen to music or read a book before you go to sleep – getting into a routine helps your body know what’s coming next
  • Don’t use electronic devices as the blue light they emit can affect the quality of your sleep
  • Avoid caffeine or energy drinks: too stimulating to help a good night’s rest
  • Avoid alcohol as it lowers the quality of sleep

Other hygiene factors

  • Regular exercise can help you reach a deeper sleep. Make sure it’s not too close to bedtime though (within two hours) as that can make it harder to get to sleep
  • Try not to take your worries to bed: internal stimuli will affect your ability to get to sleep. Hardly anyone can voluntarily make themselves fall asleep instantly. If you have concerns, make a list and an action plan to deal with them, and leave it in another room to deal with when you wake up. Worrying, when you can’t do anything about it, is destructive to your physical and mental health.

If you’d like further information or sleep advice or want to find out more about our shift workers’ medical, contact our commercial team on 0207 500 6900.