Sleep better in shift work

In Germany, millions of people do shift work and the need to sleep during the day and work at night is part of everyday life for many employees. Special rules can help to make sleep more restful. We show you how you can best deal with a changing sleep-wake cycle.

Table of Contents

      1. shift work
      2. Our internal clock
      3. Sleep & shift work: What happens in shift work?
      4. Sleep restfully in shift work
      5. Conclusion/At a glance

      1. Shift work

      Early shift, late shift, night shift. While some sleep, others work at the hospital at the same time, build cars on the assembly line, drive buses or taxis - or take care of public safety. Almost every sixth person in Germany is currently working shifts or shift-related services - and the trend is rising. However, shift work does not correspond to human nature and can have numerous negative consequences for our sleep and our health.

      2. Our internal clock

      All living things on our planet - humans, animals and plants - have an internal clock that is located in certain areas of the brain and even in individual cells. It coordinates various metabolic processes in the body and plays a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, among other things. Our internal clock ensures that our blood pressure drops at night, breathing calms down and the repair and recovery programs are started. The sun and daylight function as an external impulse that adapts our body to the natural daily routine and influences the release of important messenger substances such as the sleep hormone melatonin or the stress hormone cortisol. However, the exact timing is different for everyone. Whether you are an early riser or a night owl also has a biological background.

      Grafik: Der Körper im Schlaf-Wach-Rhythmus

      Our internal clock also adjusts to rhythms and routines, such as getting up at the same time every morning. However, this adaptation does not succeed immediately, but usually takes a few days. But what happens when our body clock gets disrupted and messed up?

      3. Sleep and shift work: What happens in shift work?

      Shift work describes working at different times of the day and night. Shift workers therefore work at times when the body is programmed to sleep and have to sleep when the organism has adjusted to being awake. This leads to problems because the constant discrepancy between the internal and external clock throws us off balance. However, the negative effects on sleep are not primarily caused by the changed sleeping and waking times, but by the frequent change. Because we cannot adapt to it quickly enough and over and over again.

      So when we go to bed after changing shifts, it can happen that the body actually thinks it's in the middle of the day. He then has a correspondingly high level of activity, which leads to problems falling asleep. The result: shift workers sleep too little and cannot regenerate the body and psyche sufficiently. This has numerous effects on health and leads, among other things, to a higher risk of developing depression, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes or cancer. Another result of the resulting lack of sleep is an increased risk of accidents and injuries. So how can we sleep restfully despite shift work?

      4. Restful sleep in shift work

      Sleeping after shift work is often a challenge. Of course, general sleeping and falling asleep tips are generally helpful. You can find these in the following articles, for example:

      Our expert tips for falling asleep
      How diet influences falling asleep
      Falling asleep relaxed - tips for relaxing before bed

      But you can prepare yourself specifically for your respective early, late and night shift and improve your sleep with a few little tricks.

      #1 morning shift

      smartsleep Schlafmagazin: Frühschicht im Krankenhaus/Pflege

      During the day: An extended afternoon nap to compensate for getting up early can make it more difficult to fall asleep in the evening. A short Power Nap after work, on the other hand, provides new energy without tiring.

      Before bedtime: Plan dinner, family TV, or other activities as early as possible in the evening, and ideally relax and wind down before bed with the lights dimmed. Smartphones, computers and other blue light sources should be avoided in the last hour so that the formation of the sleep hormone melatonin is not disturbed.

      #2 late shift

      smartsleep Schlafmagazin: Spätdienst in der Küche Gastronomie

      The sleep phase after a late shift corresponds most closely to our normal biological sleep-wake rhythm and therefore allows for a deep and restful sleep. You can use this to reduce sleep deficits from early or night shift phases.

      On the day: A short power nap before starting work can help to start the late shift refreshed and efficient.

      Before sleeping: Avoid heavy meals, sporting activities and sources of blue light after the end of the shift so as not to disturb falling asleep. Also, refrain from setting an alarm clock and sleep in according to your own needs.

      #3 night shift

      smartsleep Schlafmagazin: Securitymann in der Nachtschicht im Sicherheitsdienst

      During the day: At night, when the body is actually prepared for sleep, it is particularly difficult to stay awake. One to two hours of sleep before starting work and short power naps during night breaks can support your performance and alertness.

      During work: The internal clock ensures that the organism shuts down at night. A bright and well-lit work environment supports alertness and inhibits sleep-inducing melatonin production. In order to counteract strong fluctuations and the nocturnal drop in blood sugar, heavy meals should be avoided. Better: Eat several small meals at night and put the main meal after the sleep period during the day. If you don't want to do without the classic pick-me-ups such as coffee or energy drinks, you should only consume them at the beginning of the night shift - otherwise the caffeine it contains may have a negative effect on falling asleep later.

      Before sleeping: Bright (sun)light should be avoided already towards the end of work and especially on the way home, because this is when the formation of melatonin should be promoted in order to make it easier to fall asleep. In order to increase your tiredness, it is advisable not to engage in strenuous activities or sports between the night shift and bedtime.

      5. At a Glance

      morning shift late shift night shift

      ✔ Short power nap after work

      ✔ Dinner and activities as early as possible in the evening

      ✔ Shut down before bed, smartphone etc. put it down and relax

      ✔ Short power nap before starting work

      ✔ Light meals, little physical activity and few blue light sources after the end of the shift

      ✔ Don't set an alarm and sleep in

      ✔ One to two hours of sleep before starting work

      ✔ A bright and well-lit work environment

      ✔ Coffee or energy drinks only at the beginning of the shift, several small meals during work and the main meal after the sleep period on the day

      ✔ Before Shutting down going to bed, avoiding bright (sun)light, sports and strenuous activities

      6. Conclusion

      Working in shifts has a wide variety of negative effects on our everyday lives and requires a lot of stamina. Sleep as a central recovery period must not be neglected under any circumstances. Because regeneration is not only important for our performance, especially in changing shift work, but also fundamental for health and well-being in the short and long term - and that is our greatest asset.

      Greetings and see you soon!

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