Image by Abbie Bernet

Coping with Shift Work during COVID


Due to the COVID outbreak, NHS workers of all grades are being asked to work nights. The problem is that on average, night shift workers sleep for 2 hours less than the average adult.
Here's why:

Sleeping Against the Body Clock

The body has an in-built biological rhythm which keeps you alert during daylight hours. When you try and sleep during the day it takes longer to drift off and you’re less likely to have deep, uninterrupted sleep

Irregular Schedules

The body's hormones act as signals for  sleep or wake according to a 24 hour cycle. The more often you switch your schedule, the harder it is for the body to anticipate.

Sleeping Out of Sync With People Around You

Staying asleep with the noises of daytime hustle and bustle around you can seem impossible. Even if you can find peace and quiet, family responsibilities and personal relationships often mean sleep gets pushed lower down the priority list.


1. Gradually taper your sleep and wake times towards the new schedule. Rise 2 hours later each day and go to bed 2 hours later.

2. Take a nap before your shift to reduce sleepiness when you’re at work:
- If you’re an early bird, try a long nap for up to 3 hours.

- If you’re a night owl, you’ll find it more difficult to sleep in the afternoon. Try at least a 15-20 minute nap before work.

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1. Seek out bright light before and during the early part of a night shift. 

2. When you have the same shift for at least a few days, eat a meal or snack at the same time each day to promote regular body cycles. If you working nights for several days, eat ‘lunch’ mid way through your shift.

3. A mid shift power nap of up to 30-40 minutes is more effective than coffee for improving alertness.

1. Follow the same routine to prepare for bed. This will get the body ready for sleep eg. a light snack, a warm bath, brushing your teeth, soothing music or meditation.

2. Use blackout curtains or drapes to make your bedroom as dark as possible. A good eye mask may also do the trick.
Ear plugs could also help to preserve your peace and quiet.

3. Keep a visible record of your sleep and work schedule somewhere so your partner, family or housemates can see it, so that they don’t inadvertently wake you up.

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