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Sleep Tips for Workers

Many of America’s adults are sleeping poorly, and it’s taking a toll on professional relationships, productivity, public safety and intimacy, according to the 2005 “Sleep in America” poll released by the National Sleep Foundation. The poll showed sleep problems are widespread and on the rise, but often ignored.

Seventy-five percent of adults frequently have a symptom of a sleep problem, such as waking frequently during the night or snoring. Even with these symptoms, most ignore them and few think they actually have a sleep problem. Poll results include:

  • 60 percent of adults with driver’s licenses say they have driven drowsy in the past year and 4 percent have had an accident or near accident because they were tired or dozed off while driving.
  • Sleep-related issues are cited as the most common reason people are late for work. Almost three in 10 working adults say they have missed work or events or made errors at work because of sleep-related issues in the past three months.
  • For adults with partners, one partner’s sleep problem can cause the other to lose, on average, nearly an hour of sleep a night. One or both partners are often too sleepy for sex, and many couples sleep apart because of a sleep problem.

Evening and overnight shift workers are a group most likely to suffer from chronic sleep problems. While this might typically be considered an individual issue, the ramifications of tired workers can have economic effects as well.

Industry employers have a right to be concerned that their employees on night shifts are alert and productive. It is important to be alert during work, especially for employees on whom the public relies, such as law enforcement, health care personnel or the military.

It is in such employees’ best interests to make sleep a priority for their own health, as well. Recent research suggests that an estimated 10 percent of night and rotating shift workers will have significant difficulty with their sleep and alertness at work, and are at higher risk for fatigue-related accidents, ulcer disease and depression.

These employees also tend to have difficulty maintaining their social and family relationships because of their schedules. Simple strategies may make life easier for those who are having problems with shift work and increase on-the-job alertness.

If you’re a shift worker, try these tips to get the rest you need:

  • Obtain adequate hours of sleep. Shift workers usually obtain less sleep than day workers, but they need to make sleep a priority.
  • If it’s impossible to get the generally recommended seven to eight consecutive hours of sleep, it’s better to take a nap prior to going to work than to skip sleep altogether.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Ask friends and family to avoid phone calls and visits during regularly scheduled sleep hours.
  • Keep the bedroom quiet, comfortable and as dark as possible; light can affect sleep and make it less refreshing.
  • Avoid coffee or other stimulants in the last four hours of the shift. A cup or two of coffee at the beginning of the shift may increase alertness during work.
  • If shifts rotate, it’s easier to adjust to a schedule that rotates from day shift to evening and then night shift than it is to adjust to a reverse rotation.
  • Keep the work environment as bright as possible; this will promote alertness and help the body adjust to the shift work schedule. However, avoid bright light on the way home from work; even consider wearing sunglasses on the drive home.
  • Consider a brief planned nap during the shift, if possible. These timed naps should last only 10 to 20 minutes, as longer naps may cause a prolonged groggy feeling after awakening.
  • If sleep or job alertness problems are persistent and severe, visit a primary care provider or a sleep specialist for an evaluation of an underlying sleep disorder that complicates the effects of shift work.
  • In very severe cases, some health care providers consider the temporary use of a short-acting sleeping pill, or a wake-promoting medication. In general you should avoid over-the-counter medicines because many contain long-acting substances that can cause drowsiness to persist during work hours.

Sleep is not a passive process. It is actually an active restorative process. You need sleep to function well. If you are sleep-deprived, you won’t function well. That’s all there is to it.

This article is based on information provided by The Ohio State University Medical Center Media Relations Office and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2007.

For more information:

Go to the Sleep Disorders health topic.