Shiftwork Management Firm Offers Tips for Getting a Good Day's Sleep

The unnatural but necessary task of sleeping during the day for those who work at night is not impossible, but it is often problematic. According to Circadian, a provider of shiftwork training, fatigue management systems, and shiftwork management publications, achieving quality daytime sleep is one of the biggest challenge shiftworkers face. Workers must seek darkness and silence when the sun is shining, lawnmowers are roaring, and the active 9-to-5 world seems intent on thwarting any attempts at sleep.

As Circadian notes, the consequences of disrupted sleep can be severe. An employee who gets only three hours' sleep because his neighbor's dog barked all afternoon is prone to alertness lapses, mistakes, and accidents on the job. Making sure shiftworkers know all the tricks of the trade for eliminating light and sound won't guarantee they'll be well-rested and productive on the overnight shift, but it at least gives them a fighting chance, the company says. And with that goal in mind, it offers the following "tried-and-true techniques for creating an environment conducive to daytime sleep."

  • Lose the Light: Sunlight and other light sources send wake-up cues to the body's internal clock, so it's vital to take steps to make it as dark as possible. Shiftworkers use a range of approaches to address this problem. Because standard curtains are unlikely to create black-out conditions, many workers reduce light by hanging a thick blanket or other heavy material over the bedroom window. Using tin foil to block light leaking around curtain edges is another popular, inexpensive option. Some have even been known to build their own devices, such as wood boards with foam rubber insulation that fits snugly in place against the window frame on all four sides. For those willing to spend a little more money, blackout curtains offer an effective alternative. Made from a fabric specially manufactured to block 100 percent of light, blackout curtains and liners (which can be added underneath existing curtains) are designed to achieve total darkness in a room 24 hours a day. Blackout curtains can be found online and even in many department stores. A final light-blocking option is a sleep mask. Also known as eye shades or sleep shades, masks are made of a dark, soft, padded fabric, completely cover the eyes and are held in place by an elastic or adjustable strap that wraps around the back of the head. Prices range from $7 to $25 depending on brand name and decoration. While some workers swear by eye masks, others are bothered by the pressure of the elastic band or strap and feel it's hard to adjust the mask to where it feels comfortable.
  • Seek Silence: Noise from the outside world or inside the household can make it hard both to fall asleep and to stay asleep during the day. Again, a range of solutions is available. Some day sleepers find that the soft, constant noise made by a fan or air conditioner is enough to mask distracting environmental noises such as traffic and neighbors’ pets. Earplugs, another popular way to eliminate daytime noise, are sold in drug, sporting goods and hardware stores. When buying, look for a "Noise Reduction Rating" (NRR) from 1 to 30 (higher numbers denote greater effectiveness at blocking sound). Foam or soft fiber earplugs, which conform to the shape of the ear canal, cost around $4 or $5 for 10 pairs. Another type, made of silicone, can be molded to cover the ear opening. Priced the same or slightly higher than foam plugs, silicone plugs can generally be reused more times. Some brands come in bright colors for visibility. For high-tech sound masking, white noise machines emit random audio frequencies, creating a constant level of soft noise that masks or drowns out environmental noise. Sold in department stores and online, these cost from $30 to $100, depending on brand name and special features such as simulated rainfall, ocean waves or other natural sounds.
  • Separate Sleep Site: Some shiftworkers--such as particularly light sleepers or those who live in especially noisy neighborhoods--find that all the products described above aren't enough. So they go a step further and set up separate sleeping quarters exclusively for daytime sleep. One man who has worked shifts for nearly 30 years, told Circadian that he started sleeping in the basement a few years ago and has never looked back. In fact, whether or not the basement would make a good bedroom was a deciding factor in choosing a new home during his recent move. Other shiftworkers have been known to head in the opposite direction, setting up a second bedroom in the attic. Again the same principles apply as the basement: shiftworkers wanted a dark and quiet place where they could get away from people during the day and get some quality shut-eye.
  • Phone Freezeout: How a shiftworker deals with the telephone (and cell phones) often depends on his or her family situation. Many shiftworkers either turn off the phone ringer in their bedroom or move the telephone to another part of the house. Turning the volume down on the answering machine is another popular strategy. With any of these options, though, comes the possibility of missing an important call. Those willing to spend a few extra dollars can use high-tech options that allow only "desirable" calls to come through. These devices allow incoming calls only from people with whom you've shared a four-digit secret code. Such devices, which connect to your telephone, can be turned on only while you sleep, effectively filtering out telemarketers and other unwanted calls. Some telephone companies offer services, available for a small monthly fee added to the phone bill, that allow incoming calls to your line only from the telephone numbers you designate. One drawback to this option, however, is that it is not user-controlled (i.e., you can't turn it on while you sleep and off when you get up). Another drawback is that a family member calling in an emergency from a pay phone or other non-designated number won't get through.

As these tips demonstrate, there's no single accepted way to get rid of light and noise. Through trial and error, veteran shiftworkers find tools that work for them. If you have such a tool or strategy that works but is not listed here, Circadian would like to hear about it in the interest of sharing the potential solution with other shiftworkers. E-mail your suggestions to Circadian at info@circadian.com. For information about the company's training offerings, newsletters, and other publications on the subject, visit www.circadian.com.

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