In Germany, millions of people do shift work and the need to sleep during the day and work at night is part of the everyday life of many employees. Special rules can help make sleep more restful. We'll show you how you can best deal with a changing sleep-wake rhythm.
Table of Contents
- Shift work
- Our internal clock
- Sleep & shift work: What happens during shift work?
- Sleep restfully during shift work
1. Shift work
Early shift, late shift, night shift. While some are sleeping, others are working at the hospital, building cars on an assembly line, driving buses or taxis - or ensuring public safety. Almost one in six people in Germany currently works in shift work or shift-related services - and the trend is rising. Shift work is not at all human nature and can have numerous negative consequences on our sleep and health.
2. Our internal clock
All living things on our planet - people, 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, among other things, plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake rhythm. This is how our internal clock ensures that our blood pressure drops at night, our breathing calms down and the repair and recovery programs start. The sun and daylight function as an external stimulus 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. But the exact timing is different for everyone. Whether you are an early riser or a night owl also has a biological background.
Our internal clock also adapts to rhythms and routines, for example if we get up at the same time every morning. However, this adjustment does not happen straight away, but usually takes a few days. But what happens when our internal clock is disrupted and disrupted?
3. Sleep and shift work: What happens during shift work?
Shift work describes working at alternating 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 inconsistency between the internal and external clock throws us out of balance. The negative effects on sleep do not primarily come from the changed sleeping and waking times, but rather from the frequent changes. Because we cannot adapt to this quickly enough and again and again.
So when we go to bed after a changing shift, it can happen that the body actually thinks it's 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 their bodies and minds sufficiently. This has numerous effects on health and leads, among other things, to a higher risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer. Another result of the resulting lack of sleep is an increasing risk of accidents and injuries. So how can we sleep well despite shift work?
4. Sleep well during shift work
Sleeping after shift work is often a challenge. Of course, general tips for sleeping and falling asleep are generally helpful. You can find these, for example, in the following articles:
You can prepare specifically for your morning, late and night shifts and improve your sleep with a few little tricks.
#1 Early shift
During the day: A long 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, gives you new energy without tiring.
Before sleep: Plan dinner, watching TV with the family or other activities as early in the evening as possible and ideally relax and wind down in dim light before going to bed. In the last hour you should avoid using your smartphone, computer and other sources of blue light so that the production of the sleep hormone melatonin is not disrupted.
#2 Late shift
The sleep phase after a late shift most closely corresponds to our normal biological sleep-wake rhythm and therefore allows for deep and restful sleep. You can use this to reduce sleep deficits from early or night shift phases.
On the day: To start the late shift refreshed and productive, a short power nap before starting work can help.
Before sleep: Avoid heavy meals, sporting activities and blue light sources after the end of your shift so as not to disturb your ability to fall asleep. Also, avoid setting an alarm clock and it's best to sleep in according to your own needs.
#3 Night Shift
During the day: At night, while the body is actually ready for sleep, staying awake is particularly difficult. One to two hours of sleep before starting work and short power naps during breaks at night 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 night-time drop in blood sugar, heavy meals should be avoided. Better: Eat several small meals at night and have your main meal after your sleep period during the day. If you don't want to do without the classic wake-up drinks such as coffee or energy drinks, you should only consume them at the beginning of the night shift - otherwise the caffeine they contain may have a negative effect on falling asleep later.
Before sleep: Already towards the end of work and especially on the way home, bright (sun) light should be avoided, because now the production of melatonin should be promoted to make it easier to fall asleep. To increase your fatigue, it is advisable not to do any strenuous activities or sports between the night shift and going to bed.
5. At a glance
✔ Short power nap after work
✔ Dinner and activities as early as possible in the evening
✔ Shut down your smartphone, etc. before going to bed. put it away and relax
✔ Short power nap before starting work
✔ Light meals, little exercise 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
Working in shifts has a 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 is also fundamental for our health and well-being in the short and long term - and that is our greatest asset.