Are shift workers more vulnerable to stress?
Working late shifts is never easy and can create a difficult balancing act where you’re forced to juggle work and your sleep patterns with spending time with your family and friends. It’s easy to feel isolated from other people in your social circle and sometimes you do sacrifice sleep so you can catch-up with your friends or spend time with your children.
Shift work is also sometimes associated with high-stress jobs – fire fighters, police personnel and doctors are all jobs that can compound emotions of stress or anxiety. You can come home in the middle of the day to an empty house with the night’s events still weighing heavily on your mind and no-one to talk to.
You’ll probably try and switch off before you go to bed but the more likely scenario is that you toss and turn, becoming more and more conscious that you only have X amount of hours left before you have to get up and do it all over again.
How does stress affect your sleep?
Stress, believe it or not, does serve a purpose – it helps to prepare your body for a flight or fight situation when your survival could be on the line.
When you experience stress your body will release hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, heightening your response time and redirecting vital nutrients to your muscles and joints, heart and lungs, prepping you for either a fight or a flight. Your reproductive function will be reduced – furthering the family line isn’t really a top priority at the moment – and your digestive system will slow down so you’ll either experience a sudden bought of diarrhoea or constipation.
However, the problem is that your body has no sense of moderation and can be a bit of a drama queen – it cannot distinguish between you facing down a grizzly bear and you worrying about your deadline at work. If you’re lying in bed, your mind buzzing, the same aforementioned fight-or-flight reaction will take place and this rush of inflammatory stress hormones can inhibit your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Experiencing stress on a regular basis can also have a larger impact on your physical and mental health, stimulating symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, mood swings, forgetfulness and hot sweats. Not to mention, if your cortisol levels are erratic through the day, it can exhaust your adrenal glands, which in turn will cause further hormonal imbalances that may disrupt your sleep cycle.
Can sleep deprivation cause stress?
If you work shifts that involve a late finish or extremely early start I’m sure you’re already fighting against sleep deprivation, which can be a real problem. According to a report by the Sleep Council in 2010, almost a third of the UK population were getting just 5-6 hours of sleep a night but this figure might be worse if you’re trying to switch off during the day.
If you’re not getting enough shut-eye you will be more predisposed to stress when you do eventually get up. This is because your body relies on sleep to secrete certain hormones, to consolidate memories and to conduct essential repair work. If you’re not sleeping, you’ll find it difficult to concentrate or cope with your emotions, which may in turn trigger a stress reaction.
Sleep deprivation can also stimulate cravings for fatty, sugary foods because your body isn’t producing enough leptin, an appetite suppressor. This means you’ll be more inclined to binge on sugary foods which will disturb your blood sugar levels, further interrupting your sleep.
Is sleep good for stress?
Can getting enough sleep help to lower your stress levels? This is a complicated question and it depends on the origin of your stress. If sleep problems are causing you to experience increased levels of anxiety, then yes, a good night’s sleep should help to reduce this problem, giving your body and mind the time it needs to rest and recuperate.
But what if stress is causing your sleep problems? What if you’re lying awake at night worrying about bills or family members?
Well, getting a good night’s sleep can still help for the same reasons I’ve already mentioned – it can help your mind to recover and recuperate. It can ensure that you wake up feeling more able to cope with your problems as well as capable of making the important decisions and judgement calls that you might need to.
Sleep is also really important for your mood, one study identified sleep as one of the most important contributors to better living, beating out financial security and other factors.
This is possibly because your quality of sleep has such a big impact on your behaviour, social interactions and work performance. All of which these can affect your quality of life, with social interactions being very important for maintaining a healthy mood and positive outlook.
Getting enough rest also gives us more get up and go, encouraging you to make the most out of opportunities rather than languishing at home feeling tired and lethargic!
5 great tips to help you overcome stress
So how can you overcome stress and prevent it from ruining your sleep patterns? There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the impact that stress has on your way of life and quality of sleep, but you may need to be prepared to make a few changes to your usual routine.
1 – Confront the source of your stress
This is often the most difficult step because many of us don’t like confrontation and want to avoid potentially tense situations. However, procrastination is definitely not the answer so if there is something you can do about feeling stressed or anxious, try to find the courage to do it, whether it means speaking someone you love about how you’re being treated or taking a hard look at your financial situation.
In the end, you will feel better for taking control of the situation and it may help your long-term quality of living. Whatever the case, at least you can go to bed without worrying about what ‘might’ happen and instead focus your attention on what you want to happen.
2 – Talk to someone
A problem shared is a problem halved so, if you aren’t ready to confront the source of your stress just yet, the next best thing you can do is talk to someone about it, whether it’s a family member or a friend. It might not solve your problem but at least it will give you a chance to get it off your chest and who knows, perhaps whoever you speak to will be able to offer a new perspective on the issue or suggest an alternative approach.
If you work night shifts though, this can be tricky – the chances are most of your friends and family work the usual 9-5 grind which makes it easy for you to become isolated. That’s why, as I mentioned in ‘How does shift work affect your sleep patterns?’, it’s important to set aside some time so you can meet-up with friends and socialise with your family. Of course this involves a degree of organisation so my advice - invest in a diary!
3– Make your bedroom a ‘stress-free’ environment
If you work night shifts, the chances are you probably arrive home and peruse the social media apps on your phone, trying to catch up on anything you might have missed out on. However, tablets, smart phones and laptops all have one thing in common – all of them can slow down your production of melatonin and, depending on the type of content you’re watching, can stimulate a stress reaction.
That’s why I’d try to the resist the temptation to scan your phone when you’re struggling to sleep and instead read a book or indulge in a nice hot bath. These activities should hopefully help you to relax – I personally sometimes add a couple of drops of lavender oil to my pillow as it’s incredibly soothing and can help my mind to relax as I’m drifting off.
4 – Practice mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness is definitely gaining traction as a way of focusing your mind and reducing your stress levels, enabling many to deal with stress in a more positive manner. It’s a very simple form of meditation that forces you to focus your full attention on your breath, allowing you to observe your own thoughts and become more aware about your body’s needs.
Studies have even found that practicing mindfulness can lower cortisol levels in the blood – one study looked at the effects of mindfulness on the cortisol levels of medical students and found that it reduced their cortisol levels, indicating its usefulness when it comes to decreasing stress and anxiety!
Mindfulness is easy to practice and doesn’t have to be time consuming. The Headspace app is specifically aimed for beginners and offers 10 minute meditation exercises for free as well as a personalised progress page!
5 – Get outdoors
Getting outdoors is very important when it comes to regulating your circadian rhythm and improving your sleep patterns. Turns out the great outdoors can also help to boost your mood and allow you to synthesise more vitamin D, an essential nutrient for your immune system that’s also thought to play a role in preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD can be particularly difficult for shift workers to manage as, unlike normal workers, they will have far less exposure to sunlight during the dark winter months.
Exercising outdoors is also associated with a variety of health benefits too, including boosting your mood and regulating your sleep patterns, spending time surrounded by nature is thought to lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, making you more relaxed and at peace.
We have put together this bundle just for you to use whenever you struggle to get to sleep! Including a selection of soothing herbal remedies and natural supplements, you can rest easy knowing that all care has been taken to ensure you get enough sleep!