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Causes of Insomnia

Night Shifts and Insomnia

Night-shift work can cause insomnia by making it nearly impossible to sleep on a consistent schedule. Here’s how:

Bill works the night shift most of the time at the local plastics manufacturing plant. He starts work at 11 p.m. and gets off at 7 a.m., five days a week. On workdays he tries to sleep until about 3 p.m., but there always seem to be things that disrupt his sleep, so he feels tired a lot. On weekends, because he wants to spend time with his family, he attempts to sleep on their schedule, which doesn't work very well for him. Bill's body clock can't make any permanent adjustments because he is always switching his sleep between days and nights.

Shift work does not come naturally to us. Our bodies are designed to work in the daylight and on a consistent schedule. Working on artificial schedules with nighttime hours has consequences. These people tend to sleep poorly and have decreased alertness during waking hours. They also have more accidents, work less efficiently, and have increased stress at home.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution for people who regularly work the night shift, but here are some tips that might help:

  • Choose a time for sleep that minimizes the separation between you and your family. And set aside some time each day to spend with your spouse and/or kids.
  • Once you decide when you will sleep, keep that time as consistent as possible--even on weekends or other days off.
  • Plan errands ahead, so they don't interfere with sleep. For example, if you sleep right after work, use a bank that has evening hours.
  • As a rule, limit sleep to one long block, rather than getting a shorter block with later naps.
  • Minimize daytime disturbances from phones, doorbells, and other sources. If necessary, get a pager that your family can use to contact you in an emergency.
  • Block outside noise by using a white-noise machine and by wearing a pair of soft ear-plugs.
  • Block out sunlight from the bedroom or use eye shades, and avoid exposure to daylight as much as possible during your sleep time.
  • Consider using the type of bright-light machine used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during your waking hours.

By following these suggestions, you can ease the toll the night shift takes on you and your family. For even better information, you could talk to a specialist. The next page explains who will be able to help you, and how.

For more information on how to get a good night's sleep, see: