Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

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The Effects of Shift Work on Your Sleep & How to Cope


Submitted by Koala Center For Sleep & TMJ Disorders

There has been a significant increase in the amount of people in the United States working shifts. Included are police officers, firefighters, nurses, doctors, pilots, waitresses, truck drivers, and many other professionals. In fact, over 22 million Americans are working evening, rotating, or on-call shifts according to the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.

The increase in the amount of people working an atypical work shift rather than the traditional nine to five schedule has also put many at risk for sleep deprivation.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, one-third of shift workers state that they sleep less than six hours per day during the work week, and 30 percent report that they only get a good night’s sleep a few nights per month or less. Some studies have even compared the sleep deprivation experienced by shift workers to that of being drunk.

Sleep deprivation can cause a shift worker to be less alert and more prone to accidents on the job and off as well as increase their risk for certain health problems. “There is strong evidence that shift work is related to a number of serious health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity,” says Frank Scheer, PhD, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Shift work is also linked to stomach problems and ulcers, depression, and an increased risk of accidents and injury.

How Shift Work Can Disrupt Our Circadian Rhythm
Each of us has an internal body clock that produces circadian rhythms that influence our body’s temperature, alertness, sleepiness, hunger, and hormone levels. This internal clock is influenced by exposure to sunlight and it peaks your natural level of sleepiness from about midnight to 7 a.m. Shift workers must fight their natural body clock to stay awake.

Not only do they have to fight their natural body clock to stay awake during their shifts, but they also find getting quality rest when they are off is easier said than done. Shift workers often fight insomnia or being awakened by family or external noises causing their sleep to be lighter and shorter. A sleep disorder such as obstructive sleep apnea, which causes the sleeper to stop breathing when the airway becomes blocked sometimes hundreds of times per night, will also prevent them from reaching deep, restful sleep. A shift worker with sleep apnea may wake up feeling as though they never got any rest, compounding their risk for illness, injury, and serious health problems.

Strategies for Sleeping Better
There are a number of strategies that can help shift workers to sleep better.

  • Napping: Take a nap just before starting a night shift.
  • Eating well: Many shift workers eat poorly and at odd times which causes stomach issues.
  • Sleep schedules: Night workers should stay on the same sleep schedule every day of the week, which will help them to have better quality sleep.
  • Sleep aids: These should be used with extreme caution— hey can increase drowsiness on the job and when driving.
  • Light therapy: Artificial bright light can affect the body clock in the same way that sunlight does and can help to adjust the body’s sleep cycle.
  • At home: Family needs to understand and respect the shift worker’s need for quality, uninterrupted sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine at least four hours before your bedtime.
  • Do something calming before you go to sleep such as reading a book, going for a short walk, or having a warm bath.
  • Don’t do any intense exercise before going to bed, as this can make you feel more awake and make it harder to fall asleep.
  • Keep your bedroom cool to aid sleep.
  • Use blackout curtains or blinds to make your bedroom dark, or wear an eye mask to keep out light.
  • Put your phone on the silent setting to prevent interruptions. Ask family or friends to keep noise to a low level and to wear headphones when listening to music or playing computer games.
  • Talk to neighbors so they are aware of your shift work and ask them to keep noise levels low at certain times of the day. Wear earplugs if there is any unavoidable noise, or play white noise or background music to drown out noise.

If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, talk with your health care provider about having a sleep study done and explore your options for treatment.

Dr. Rod Willey works closely with area physicians to provide comprehensive care for obstructive sleep apnea. Koala Center for Sleep & TMJ Disorders® dental sleep appliance is considered medical treatment for mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea and CPAP Intolerance. Covered by most health insurance, Medicare, TRICARE and VA Benefits. Koala Center For Sleep & TMJ Disorders® offers options you can live with. Call us today for a consultation at (309) 650-6780 or visit our website at