Shift work: how do you stimulate a healthy sleep pattern?

A person who sleeps sufficiently and regularly is healthier, more productive and more cheerful. But what about your employees who do night and shift work? Follow these tips to watch over their well-being and performance.

Shift work is often organised according to a specific schedule (e.g. working hours at night). Sometimes, the schedule also includes a rotation system by which employees have to work at different times over a period of days or weeks. As an employer, you can take specific measures to ensure that such people get a better night’s sleep.

Risks of sleep deprivation

Night work, like shift work, may lead to sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep will not only impact your employees; your company will also suffer. Since sleep-deprived employees find it harder to concentrate, they run a higher risk of causing or having an accident and they are less productive. 

Lack of sleep also leads to greater emotional instability, an unhealthy lifestyle and more anxiety feelings. Those unable to adapt their sleep pattern over the long term may develop health problems, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases or diabetes.

Specific measures

Aligning the working conditions with night and shift work reduces the risk of sleep deprivation and the associated risks.

  1. Provide bright light and varied background noises as well as regular mealtimes during shifts.
  2. Implement a rotation system and rotate staff teams after 3 to 4 days.
  3. Rotate clockwise. In other words, employees of the morning shift should have the afternoon shift next, and then the evening shift.

Which advice would you give to night shift workers?

In the evening, before the night shift
Inform employees about the usefulness of power naps. Encourage them to take a 20 to 25 minute power nap before their night shift begins. Another good way to boost their energy is to take a 90-minute nap (the duration of a sleep cycle).

During the night shift
Employees should take short breaks in-between in order to prevent their productivity from dropping during the night shift. Above all, it is important that they talk with colleagues and keep moving. 

The best time to eat a warm meal is between 1 and 1.30 am. They should avoid drinking any caffeine (e.g. coffee, soft drinks or energy drinks) just before they eventually go to bed.

After the night shift
It is safer for employees who have been up for more than 18 hours to first take another power nap before they leave the workplace. Once home, night shift workers should ideally go to sleep right away, without performing additional tasks that require a lot of concentration and energy.  Employees who have had to work a series of night shifts should be able to recover with at least two days of rest.

Inform your employees about the importance of a good night’s sleep. If they follow the above-listed recommendations, they can make their (night) shifts more energetic, more productive and more enjoyable right away.

Do you have further questions about a good sleep pattern in night shift?

Feel free to contact our prevention advisor Dr. Marianne Sebrechts, through