Learning From Experience: What Every New Shift Worker Should Know Featured

With that in mind, experienced shiftworkers recommend that you…

Advice #1 - You will need to approach sleep differently.  Before shiftwork, chances are sleep was most likely something you just did at night. However, as a shiftworker you will be introduced to the challenges of trying to sleep during the day and possibly also to the challenge of having a rotating bedtime.

Prepare your bedroom for daytime sleep: For starters evaluate your bedroom for daytime sleep. Is it pitch black or is the sunshine lighting up the bedroom? What sounds do you hear? Is the temperature nice and cool, or is it hot and stuffy? Depending on your answers you might want to consider a shopping trip to buy thick curtains, earplugs or perhaps a fan or white noise machine to block daytime noise. 

Take naps: Likewise, you may not have taken a nap since you were five, but learning to nap will be a great way to catch up on sleep. For example, many shiftworkers told us they have trouble sleeping for more than 4 or 5 hours in the morning after a night shift. To get extra sleep many would then take a 2 hour nap in the afternoon.

Make sleep a top priority:  To have a good night shift, you need to make sure you arrive at work well-rested, alert and ready to go. To accomplish this you need to make getting sleep a top priority. That means being disciplined about going to bed at a reasonable hour to ensure you’re getting enough sleep. 

Share your sleep schedule: Also, it’s important to remember that other people need to know that sleep is a priority for you.  Establish “do not wake” hours during which your children and other relatives and friends are not supposed to disturb your rest.  Unplug the phone and hang a “do not disturb” or “no solicitors” sign on your front door to prevent unwanted visits. 

Other sleep tips: Avoid caffeine and alcohol for several hours before bedtime; Wear dark sunglasses on the drive home after a night shift (helps you to avoid direct exposure to the early morning sunlight); and try to pay back your sleep debt you accumulated after working a string of nights by getting extra sleep on your off-days.

Advice #2 – Learn by trial and error.  When you’re starting out, your co-workers can offer good advice on dealing with the physical and social challenges of shiftwork.  But the most valuable source of knowledge will be your own experience as you get a few months and years of shiftwork under your belt.  You’ll learn by trial and error what does and doesn’t work for you. 

Advice #3 - You will have to make some sacrifices.  At a 24/7 operation, somebody has to cover weekends, nights, evenings and holidays, and often that somebody is you.  It sounds reasonable and rational, but it can really hit home as you’re working while the rest of your family is eating Thanksgiving turkey together.

Be flexible: People who’ve worked shifts for many years say that both they and their families had to become more flexible with holidays and family events.  An open mind will really help you here.  For example, this year, celebrate Thanksgiving on Saturday instead of Thursday.  If you have to work during your daughter’s birthday party, have a second party for her the next day you’re free.  After a while, such adjustments become routine for both you and your family.

Social life: You might have adjust to seeing your friends, not when you used to, but when you can.  Shoot pool with your buddies on a week night before you head to work.  Or pick your best friend up at 5 p.m. from her office job and go shopping together.  Ask for days off way in advance for special events. 

Whatever you do, don’t lose touch.  

Your family and friends need to know that you’re doing your best to spend time with them during the hours you have available.

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