Will your job be keeping you up past your bedtime this Christmas? In this article, Phil Lawlor, Sleep Expert at Dormeo, offers his insight into the effect irregular shift patterns and night shifts can have on your rest, as well as the steps you can take to put a stop to sleepless days and nights.
Did you know that shift workers are 28% more likely to experience mental health problems than people with consistent weekday work schedules (AJPH)? This figure can get even worse for people who work night shifts and, for hospitality staff, an average of 28 hours of overtime during the festive period is hardly the icing on the Christmas cake (Matthew Clark).
In the UK, the night-time economy is worth £66 billion and employs 1.3 million people in hospitality and entertainment, including pubs, restaurants and music venues (NTIA). That’s a lot of hard workers who may be experiencing irregular sleep patterns, which can lead to a worrying amount of health and wellbeing problems caused by a lack of proper rest.
Below, I’ll be going through some of those issues as well as giving you my tips for getting the sleep you need as a hospitality worker this Christmas.
How working nights affects your sleep
Our circadian rhythm is our body’s natural clock. It’s what helps us wake up on a morning and fall asleep at night, and it’s affected by all kinds of factors, from how much sunlight we receive to the temperature. So, if you’re sleeping during the day and working when it’s cool and dark, you’re bound to get drowsy on the job.
Plus, if your shifts are irregular, it can be even more difficult to establish a sleep pattern as you work and sleep at different times each day. So, your circadian rhythm is constantly getting interrupted, and it becomes more and more difficult to actually fall asleep when it’s time to go to bed. That’s why many hospitality workers find themselves lying awake at night (or day) even if they’re exhausted.
How a lack of sleep affects your health and wellbeing
Being sleepy makes us clumsier, which can be dangerous in a fast-paced hospitality environment. In fact, night staff are three times more likely to suffer a work-related accident and twice as likely to have a car accident than their day shift colleagues (Young Foundation), so getting enough kip can even help prevent serious injury.
People who work night shifts long term are also more likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes (University of Colorado Boulder). Perhaps even more concerning, the long-term effects of inadequate rest include an increased risk of depression and bipolar disorder (University of Glasgow). You need to speak to your employer and your GP if you think your lack of sleep is affecting your mental health.
How to maintain a regular sleep cycle
There are a few things you can do to make it easier to fall and stay asleep when you need to this Christmas. Here are just three of the best.
Dealing with nightshifts often means carefully considering your circadian rhythm. If you work the same time each night, stick to a strict bedtime and your sleep pattern should follow suit.
If you work irregular shifts, it can be a bit more difficult to establish a routine. Instead, you should always aim to get the same amount of sleep each night — between seven and nine hours is ideal. Even just having the same bedtime routine, like having a wash, changing into your pyjamas, and reading a book for an hour or so, can be enough to signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Just like our circadian rhythm affects when we get hungry, our diets can have a huge effect on the quality of our rest. You should stay away from sugar and caffeine about four hours before bedtime, as they are stimulants that make us more alert.
It’s also a good idea to limit the amount of greasy foods you eat before bed as your digestive system will keep you awake as it’s trying to process them, but this can be difficult as fast food is the most readily available sustenance during the night. Instead, drink plenty of water (or squash) and make sure you make your own lunch to take with you. You could even have a healthy meal prepared for when you get home.
Making your bedroom as cool and as dark as possible is a great way to mimic night-time, which could help boost your sleepiness levels after a night shift. Look for blackout curtains or blinds and try not to have the heating on too high. If you’re too cold, you should invest in a heavier duvet instead.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re using the correct mattress, as a bed that is too soft or lumpy can make you even more sore after spending a long shift on your feet. You might want to consider a firmer mattress that can support you properly to help you get comfortable at night.
The tips in this guide can help you to establish a healthy sleep pattern over Christmas when your shifts are likely to be more chaotic. Focus on your routine, your diet, and your sleeping environment and your health and wellbeing will benefit.