Shift Work & You

Shift workers often find it challenging to balance sleep and activities with their varying shifts. Shift workers often find there is not enough time between each shift to sleep and spend time with their friends or families before they have to get ready for their next shift. We asked a variety of shift workers how they balance their busy schedules in order to make sleep a priority.

 

Sarah L.: Nurse at a university HospitalSarah

What is your shift schedule?

7 pm - 7 am, three nights a week.

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

The biggest challenge for me is managing social activities. People who work normal hours don't always understand that I still need to sleep between/after work shifts and that I don't have the entire day free to do whatever I like.  Also, it can be difficult to motivate myself to be social after a few busy, stressful nights of work.  On my first day/night off, I may spend a few hours lazing around—I call that my night shift hangover.  Also, since I work different days each week (for example, one week it may be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; another week it may be Tuesday, Thursday, Friday), I have to remember to check my work schedule before making plans because my free nights vary. 

What helps me…

I find it most helpful to group my shifts together so that I am not flipping back and forth between day and night schedules constantly throughout the week.  If I have the time and energy, I will exercise before going into work to experience daylight and work off some stress.   

The day after my last night shift, I will try to "short sleep" and wake up after only a few hours to make the most out of my day and get back on a normal schedule.  I also try to go to bed early that night to catch up on sleep. Napping also helps out.

 

 

Traci K.: Post production TV supervisor Traci

What is your shift schedule?

One week of a day schedule (9am – 5pm), then a week of a night schedule (5pm – 1:30 or 2:30am).  Every other week, I rotate back.  

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

My schedule is opposite from the rest of the world. It's great for going shopping, to the bank, doctor appointments, and so forth, but almost all school activities/meetings (plays, performances, sporting events) are held at night to accommodate someone working during the day. 

I’m also tired most of the time.  I try to take a nap whenever I can, but it's hard with little kids at home. 

What helps me…

I could not do this without support from a spouse, family (especially my mother), and friends. It takes immense juggling all of the time. When I work days, my husband works nights.  When I work nights, he works days.  I leave extensive notes explaining every event and detail that is happening if I will not be attending (what medicine each kid needs and at what time, what equipment is needed for each event and where that might be).  I choose sleep over all else when I have the chance to do it because if I don't get enough sleep, I’m tired, foggy and grumpy. Staying on top of things, having a clean house and feeling organized also makes me feel good.

Dan T.: Lighting technician for TV commercials Dan

What is your shift schedule?

Start times range from 4am to 4pm and are often scheduled without much notice. Days are almost always 12 hours minimum. 

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

When I was younger and single, the hours didn’t matter. I’d come home whenever, shower, sleep, get up, repeat. When I wasn’t working, I would travel, socialize and relax. Now that I’m married with more responsibilities, the extreme change in life at home between working and non-working days is brutal, and sleep loss is the worst. Commercial productions are only obligated to allow you 10 hours between when you are “wrapped” and the next day’s call time.  So if it takes 90 minutes to get home, I have total of 8.5 hours to shower, sleep, get up and make the drive back in to work. 

Since my type of job is unpredictable, my “down days” can often be spent worrying about when the next job will come, recuperating from the job I just finished, or avoiding making committed social plans with friends and family for fear I’ll have to break them at a moment’s notice.

What helps me…

The best thing for me, truly, is sleep. It all comes down to rest and recuperation.  Catching up with friends or family after a day at work has a direct negative effect on how much sleep I’ll get that night.  So I come home, try to “bullet point” the day with my wife, and go to sleep. Blackout curtains are a must.

I really try to get eight hours of sleep.  It takes discipline to do this. There are bills to pay, dogs that need walking, emails to check and TV shows I love. If I get home at 9pm, I can sit at my computer and it is suddenly 11:30pm.  So instead I come home, clean up, talk to my (very understanding) wife, and go to bed.  

 

Marvin R.: BaristaMarvin R

What is your shift schedule?

I usually work mornings, starting at 4am and ending as late as 1:30pm. Sometimes I work afternoons and nights if help is needed. 

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

The biggest challenges about working shifts are planning social activities and sleep loss. If I work in the morning, I wake up at 3:30am, so if I go out the night before, I will have to deal with the consequences of getting little to no sleep. I’ve decided that if it is not worth losing sleep over it I probably won’t go out, or I’ll just go out to make an “appearance,” and get home quickly to sleep as much as I can.

What helps me…

What helps me to keep going is having a hobby to take my mind off work and school and that doesn't leave me feeling drained or groggy. I make the best of my schedule because I get off early and I still have a lot of time to do other things that I enjoy. I also try to fit in a nap to recharge.  

Matt B.: Police officerMatt B 

 

What is your shift schedule?

I work 9pm until 6am with rotating days off every week.

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

The biggest challenge about this shift is finding a regular sleep schedule. Some days I go to bed right when I get off work and other days I have to stay up until the afternoon. It's never the same. Some days I have work obligations that start at 9am and some days I have to take my five year old son to school in the morning. I am well aware that I'm functioning on minimal sleep most of the time and I use one of my two days off catching up on sleep.

What helps me…

What helps me is keeping in mind the benefit of this schedule: the fact that I don’t miss any social events or any of my kid’s events. Most of the people I work with choose this shift strictly because it allows you to spend more time with your friends and family and that helps in dealing with the overall stress of the job.  

 

Eric D.: Fire lieutenantEric D

 

What is your shift schedule?

My shift is 24 hours on, and then 48 hours off.  

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

The biggest challenge for me is trying to function normally the next day. There are shift days when I get maybe three hours of sleep total, followed by strenuous and highly stressful calls on shift. This leads to odd sleep times the following days when I’m off. 

What helps me…

What I try to do is nap during the day at work. I also sleep in increments—for example when I get home, I'll sleep until noon and then try to fall asleep again around 11pm. I’ve also started drinking a nighttime (non-caffeinated) tea that aids in my sleep—it seems to help sometimes.