Sleep experts recommend that adults receive 7-9 hours of sleep each night to maintain their physical and mental health, but what happens when our job is preventing us from getting a full night’s rest?
Interestingly enough, research from a study by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reveals a possible link between high-activity jobs like construction work, and sleep deprivation. Some might assume that high-activity workers since they’re constantly engaged in physical activity, would sleep like a rock when they return home after a long day.
Results from the Penn study, however, and perhaps from your own personal experience, suggest otherwise. University researchers studied the sleep habits of over 17,000 professionals whose jobs were classified as low, moderate, and or high-activity. The individuals in the low activity job category sat or stood for most of the duration of their workday, while those in the moderate category like UPS delivery drivers spent the majority of their time at work walking. Lastly, the high-activity category was reserved for those whose job descriptions mostly consisted of manual labor.
Compared to the professionals in low activity roles, those with high-activity jobs were more likely to be short sleepers, or in other words, sleep less than the recommended 7 hours a night. If you’re somebody who works in hard labor, you might’ve already noticed the toll your job takes on your quality of sleep. So, what exactly is there to do about it?
Researchers have offered three possible explanations on why high-activity workers aren’t sleeping as much as their office-working counterparts:
- These types of jobs require long hours that may interfere with a full night’s sleep.
- The stress from high-activity jobs keeps you awake in bed at night.
- The physical activity from work causes you to be alert, and awake around bedtime.
The key to getting a good night’s sleep is relaxing both your body and mind so it’s easy to drift off into a slumber when bedtime comes around, but that’s difficult to do if you’re stressed out from work, wide awake after physical activity on the job, or working late-night hours. Here are some helpful sleep tips for individuals who hold high-activity positions and can’t seem to fall asleep after working on their feet all day.
1) Make Your Bedroom A Sleep Haven
Once it’s time for bed, you should be able to retire to a room that’s set-up to maximize your sleep. Ideally, it should be clean, dark, quiet, cool, and of course, comfortable. Make sure lights are turned off, outside noise pollution is blocked off, and your thermostat is set to a moderate temperature between 62-68 degrees.
For those of you who work late into the night and sleep in longer than sunrise, you may want to invest in blackout curtains in order to prevent the sun from disrupting your sleep in the morning. You should also keep anything relating to work out of the bedroom. It’s a stress-free zone reserved only for two things: sleep and sex. Nothing more is allowed, especially not matters relating to work.
Most importantly, though, your mattress should be especially cozy and accommodating. As the centerpiece of your bedroom, you want to make sure your bed works for your body type, sleeper type, and specific personal needs.
For example, if heavy lifting or other physical activity at work is causing you back pain, you probably want a firm mattress that’ll keep your spine properly supported. The best extra firm mattress is one that contains coils because they add another layer of reinforcement for support underneath the bed’s firm top layers.
2) Abide By A Bedtime
Even if you’re returning to work late at night or in the early hours of the morning, it’s still important you give your body at least seven hours of sleep so it has enough time to repair, restore, and refresh. It might seem silly to restrict yourself to a bedtime considering you probably haven’t had one since you were eleven years old, but bedtimes can be just as beneficial for adults — especially for those who work late hours.
Irregular bedtimes can interfere with your circadian rhythm, the body’s natural process that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Once you’re consistently going to bed at the same time each night, your body’s circadian rhythm will begin to recognize when it’s time to start winding down for sleep and will signal the release of melatonin. Melatonin, a.k.a. the “sleep hormone,” is a hormone that our body produces to let us know that it’s time to wind down for bed.
Accordingly, set a bedtime approximately 7-9 hours before you want to wake up, and make sure you give yourself enough time to get home and run through your nighttime routine. If work clock out at 1 a.m. and want to be up and at ‘em in the morning by 11 a.m., make sure you’re in bed by around 2:30 a.m. or 3 a.m.
3) Unplug Before Bed
Like irregular bedtimes, electronic devices like your phone or television can also disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm. For starters, the light and darkness have a significant influence on your body’s internal alarm clock. The blue light that emits from device screens can prevent or delay the release of melatonin in your body, making it harder for you to recognize that it’s time to hit the hay.
Constant buzzes from text messages, phone calls, incoming emails, and social media notifications can also prevent you from getting quality sleep. Keeping electronic devices at your bedside, with your phone probably being the biggest offender, can keep your brain on high-alert because those notifications act as a stimulant for your brain. This is obviously counterproductive if you’re trying to reach a relaxed state of mind before bed. To ensure your electronics aren’t taking away from the quality of your sleep, stay away from them at least an hour to an hour and a half before bedtime.
4) Beware Of Caffeine Intake Too Close To Bedtime
Every once in a while, you may rely on an afternoon or evening cup of coffee to harness enough energy to get through the rest of your work shift. Unfortunately, those late-afternoon coffee cravings could be contributing to your lack of sleep. According to a study published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, those who were given about two or three cups of coffee six hours before bed received over an hour less sleep. So if you’re yearning for one or two cups more of caffeine, make sure you drink it early enough in the afternoon the after-effects don’t linger on through bedtime.
5) Practice A Nighttime Routine
Practicing a consistent nighttime routine is arguably just as important as your morning one. You likely have a routine after you wake up to help you get energized ready for the day. A regular routine around bedtime essentially does the same thing except it helps you wind down, and induce sleepiness so you’re ready to fall asleep when you eventually get in bed. Here are some great pre-bedtime activities you can do at night to help relieve stress, ease tension in the body, and prepare yourself for a full eight hours of sleep.
- Light Yoga Stretches —Researchers expect anxiety to be one of the possible culprits behind high-activity workers’ sleep deprivation, and doing light pre-bedtime yoga stretches is one of the best-proven ways to overcome it. Yoga can help ease stress and anxiety, plus it’ll give your muscles good relaxing stress after a long day of hard labor.
- Read A Book — The no electronics rule might have put a damper on your usual pre-bedtime ritual of watching your favorite show before you go to sleep, but sticking your nose into a good book is a great alternative. Reading can be a good distraction from things that are causing you anxiety, and even just six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress levels by 65%.
- Write A To-Do List — If tomorrow’s responsibilities are the main root of your stress, make a to-do list of all the tasks you have to complete the next day. Getting them down on paper will help relieve them from your mind, and keep you organized so you’re better prepared to tackle those responsibilities.
- Listen To A Sound Machine — Some people struggle to fall asleep in absolute silence and are more susceptible to relaxing sounds. Instead of falling asleep with the TV on low volume, consider investing in a sound machine. They’re pretty affordable and can help lull you to sleep much better than the sounds of a TV can.
- 20-Minute Rule — If you finish your nighttime routine and find yourself unable to fall asleep after lying in bed for 20 minutes, get up and practice a relaxing activity you enjoy until you begin to feel sleepy. This prevents you from entering the vicious cycle where you become more stressed because you aren’t falling asleep, which only perpetuates your inability to fall asleep even more.
The Negative Effects Of Sleep Deprivation
We may not immediately recognize the negative impact that sleep deprivation has on our performance and personal well-being, other than a few extra yaws here and there at work and an extra 5-minute break. The fact is, however, a lack of sleep can really have an impact on your brain function and in the long term, can even lead to serious health issues.
i) Short Term
Aside from daytime fatigue and grogginess, functioning on little sleep can also be harmful to your decision making and overall response time. As you could probably imagine, this means bad news for your productivity when these side effects are carried over into the workplace.
For starters, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reported that those who sleep 7-8 hours a night or 20% more productive than those who received 5-6 hours, and 29% more productive than those who slept less than five hours. Ultimately, higher production leads to a higher payout, meaning a full night’s sleep can put extra money in your pockets.
One study found that individuals who suffered from a lack of sleep had up to 50% slower response time than usual, and even made less accurate decisions than somebody with a BAC of 0.05%. This kind of behavior could be detrimental for anybody in the workplace, but especially individuals like hard laborers who find themselves in high-pressure situations where a wrong decision could potentially compromise their safety, or that of another individual.
ii) Long Term
This is where sleep deprivation really takes a toll; not only in the workplace but also on a person’s physical health. The possible long term effects of non-stop sleepless nights include: increased blood pressure, weight gain, obesity, depression, memory loss, decreased fertility, a weakened immune system, and even a heart attack or stroke. For somebody who depends on their body’s abilities for a living, sleep can help play a role in the longevity of your well-being and physical capabilities.
As far as sleep’s impact on your profession, a study by the Department of Economics found that workers who slept 7-9 hours a night saw a 4.9% increase in wages over the long term, as opposed to a 1.5% increase in the short term. Those who sleep less than they’re supposed to, however, contribute to America’s yearly economic loss of about $411 billion because of employee and managers’ lack of sleep.
iii) When To Consult A Doctor
If your insomnia continues for four weeks or more and is affecting the way you live your day-to-day, it may be time to consult your doctor. They can recommend you to a sleep specialist who will assess your symptoms, come up with a diagnosis, and go over possible treatment options with you. It’s crucial to nip the problem in the bud before sleep deprivation gets the better of you, your health, and your professional life.