Are Australian shift workers getting enough sleep?

Four out of ten Australians are not getting enough sleep. We know that prioritising sleep is medicine for a healthy, happy life. It is one of the three pillars of health alongside exercise and diet and is critical to the overall wellbeing of shift workers. Round-the-clock careers can take a toll on health and wellbeing, in fact, 1.4 million Aussies sacrifice sleep for their job. Research has found that shift workers are at a greater risk of conditions from obesity and cardiovascular disease, to mood disorders and cancer.

Whether you’re a doctor, nurse, miner, firefighter, pilot or hospitality worker Professor Danny Eckert answers some common questions to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Humans have evolved to be active during the day and sleep at night so, what happens if we disrupt that natural rhythm?

We certainly know that optimal sleep occurs at night. It is challenging to sleep during the day and if we’re not getting enough sleep or getting it at the wrong time of day every organ in the body can be adversely affected.

How can we get adequate sleep while juggling shift work?

Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule, keep the bedroom dark during the day and avoid bright lights, heavy meals and caffeine before your head hits the pillow.

How long should we be sleeping?

Healthy adults aged between 18 and 64 years should get about seven to nine hours of sleep, even if they’re shift workers, who sleep during the day.

What are the rules around napping?

A nap can be a powerful tool to help improve performance, especially for shift workers, but it needs to be done properly. Ten to 30 minutes of napping is optimal. If you go beyond that you may get ‘sleep inertia’ which means you wake up tired and groggy.

What should shift workers be eating to promote better sleep?

Consider preparing small and healthy ‘light’ meals. Avoid eating a heavy meal before bed. Avoid spicy food and milk which can bring on reflux in some people and disrupt sleep.

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