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Napping for Shift Workers: When You Absolutely, Positively, Have to Have It

By Sara Butler

Napping for Shift Workers

If you head to work when most people are ending their day, then you’re likely a shift worker. Any person who works outside the hours of 7 in the morning and 6 in the evening is considered a shift worker, whose work is vital but quite difficult.

Shift work can be quite demanding, particularly in the sleep department. One way many shift workers have dealt with these demands is by adding naps to their schedules. If you are a shift worker or you love someone who is, then it’s important to understand how nap time can be beneficial and how to use it to maximize productivity and rest.

Do Shift Workers Need Naps?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended amount of sleep for an adult is between seven and nine hours per night. Shift workers tend to get less than the recommended amount and can also suffer from sleep disorders as well. In fact, shift work disorder is a condition akin to insomnia that causes shift workers to have problems sleeping, resulting in tiredness and an increased risk of falling asleep when they are on the job.

Yes, sleep deprivation is something shift workers struggle with, which is why a well-timed nap and paying attention to sleep patterns are vital to overall health and wellness.

Who Needs to Take a Nap?

Your body needs sleep to function optimally. Nighttime sleep is how most people accomplish sufficient rest, but for those who do shift work and have an altered sleep schedule, napping when not at work can be a useful tool.

Although naps are often associated with little kids, many people can benefit from naps. Shift workers are one of the biggest groups to benefit, as are those who may have jet lag or suffer from sleep disorders that interrupt their sleep at night.

The bottom line is that if you’re not getting enough sleep, then a nap may be just what the sleep doctor ordered.

Does a Nap Mess Up a Good Night’s Sleep?

It’s commonly believed that naps outside of the normal hours of sleep can interrupt getting a good night’s (or day’s) rest. As long as you follow a few simple rules when it comes to naps, then they are a great addition to your routine. Some things to be aware of include:

Don’t nap too long - Don’t take long naps since those can interfere with getting enough sleep when it’s time to go to bed. Limit a nap to around 20 minutes and don’t go over 30 minutes.

Don’t nap at certain times - If you’re about seven hours or less away from bedtime, then avoid taking a nap. Otherwise, it can interrupt your normal sleep schedule.

Do choose a good environment - A quiet, cool place where you can get comfy is vital for a good nap. Turn off bright lights and limit any distractions such as televisions, computers, or phones.

How Much Sleep Do We Need by Age?

If you’re unsure how much sleep each night you should be aiming for, then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have it all figured out for you.

Babies and toddlers need the most sleep, with babies sawing logs up to 16 hours per day and toddlers hot on their heels with about 14 hours of sleep, including naps. Preschool-aged kids aren’t far behind, needing anywhere between 10 and 13 hours of sleep while school-aged kids up to 12 need 9 to 12 hours to be at their best. Once the corner is turned to the teen years, 8 to 10 hours per night is best.

Adults are considered ages 18 and up, but even adults are broken down into smaller groups when it comes to how much sleep is needed. Anyone between 18 and 60 should be getting at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, while those between 61 and 64 need between 7 and 9 hours. If you’re over the age of 65, you may find you feel well-rested with only 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

It's important to remember that while the number of hours of sleep you get each night is important, other aspects of sleep are just as valuable to your overall health. Quality sleep is very important too. You may not be getting good quality sleep if you don’t feel rested after you wake to start your day, you wake up a lot during sleeping hours, or you have some sort of sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. If those are issues that you’re facing, you may need to take a look at improving sleep habits or seek the help of a medical professional for a sleep disorder to help. If you have a sleep disorder, completing a sleep study can be beneficial in helping you determine how to sleep better.

What Jobs Are Filled by People Who Need a Nap?

While you may think of shift work as night shifts, the Bureau of Labor Statistics splits shift work into three categories.

Evening - The first is evening shift work, which is anyone who works from 6 to 10 in the evening. This category includes servers, bartenders, food service workers, salon workers, retail workers, and often healthcare workers, to name a few.

Nights - Those who work between 11 at night and 3 in the morning are night shift workers. Jobs in healthcare, protective services such as firemen and police, production workers, and transportation employees are a few examples of those who fit into this category.

Early morning - Anyone who works between 4 and 8 in the morning is considered an early morning shift worker. Engineers, construction workers, farmers, and transportation workers are typically in this category.

As you can see, far more people may be doing shift work without realizing it. It’s important to understand that anyone working outside of normal daytime hours needs to take extra care with their sleep schedules.

Although you may dream of having a job in which you are paid to sleep, for shift workers that’s not a reality. No matter your sleep schedule, sleep time is vital to your overall health and wellness. Using naps to help make up ground on days when you may be struggling is a great tool, but you should seek out professional medical care if you’re finding a nap isn’t enough to help you get through your shift without being alert.

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