Want to Stay Awake During Shiftwork? Sleep on the Job!

by Chris Martin on December 17, 2014

The quintessential image of a lazy employee is a person at work who is sound asleep.

anti-fatigue mats
“Hello!!! Rip Van Winkle!”

If he or she gets caught, a sleeping worker can expect at least a severe reprimand: the company might even terminate the somnolent employee. But in some professions (like truck driving or forklift operation), nodding off even for a few seconds can lead to severe injuries or even the death of not only the worker, but also those in the immediate vicinity.

Shift Work Presents Wakefulness Challenges

So the need for people to remain awake and alert on the job is fairly self-explanatory. But what about all of those professions which employ shift workers?

Manufacturing plant employees, petrochemical company workers, and security personnel commonly work non-standard hours. Given how the body’s circadian rhythm is programmed for daylight hours, shift work can be more than difficult, it can also be unhealthy.

What’s one solution to remaining alert during shift work? That’s right – sleeping on the job!

Anti-fatigue mats
Though preferably in a more suitable sleeping position.

The Controlled Sleeping Strategy

There’s an agency in Canada’s most populous province called the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers. As its name implies, the mission of OHCOW is to protect the health of all of the workers in Ontario. Recently, an OHCOW representative was on hand at a conference in Sarnia who spoke at a workshop entitled “Shiftwork, Sleep and Staying Healthy.”

The occupational hygienist noted that the practice of allowing shift workers to take short naps has been embraced in the petrochemical industry for over two decades. It’s being referred to as a “controlled sleeping strategy,” where employees take 45-minute naps to prevent the onset of grogginess and fatigue.

Studies Support Sleeping at Work

There are some scientific studies which appear to bolster the efficacy of this approach. One 2002 study focused on two dozen male aircraft maintenance engineers who commonly worked two overnight shifts on consecutive dates. Researchers had each employee take a 20-minute nap during each shift, then made them stay awake during a pair of overnight shifts a week later. According to neurobehavioral test results administered to the test subjects at the end of their shifts, the men offered quicker responses on a vigilance task at the end of their first “napping” shift than when they had not taken any naps on their shift (though there were no significant differences recorded on the second “napping” night of each shift).

Another research project from last year focused on female night shift workers at two hospitals. Scientists submitted questionnaires to the women asking about their work, sleeping habits, and household chores at home. The data revealed that the women who tended to nap at work were the ones who generally had more housework and a greater domestic workload.


Hotel pool cleaners may try to catch forty winks in the shallow end.

Alternatives to Sleeping Shift Workers

However, if you as a business owner are not sold on the idea of allowing shift work employees to nap, there are some other methods of combating tiredness and fatigue which may befall these individuals. They include:

  • encouraging them to drink lots of water to remain hydrated
  • encouraging them to eat meals between three and four hours apart to keep blood sugar levels high
  • suggesting that they eat foods rich in protein to bolster alertness
  • discouraging excessive caffeine consumption which can destabilize blood sugar levels
  • installing bright lights in their work areas
  • assigning people to work in groups to facilitate conversation and interaction
  • promote moderate exercise, either at work or at home
  • providing anti-fatigue mats for workers who spend a great deal of time standing in one spot

For this last suggestion, turn to Ultimate Mats and its full line of anti-fatigue matting products for different workplaces and budgets. An anti-fatigue mat can help aid circulation in the legs and torso, which keeps muscles fresh and workers alert. Unfortunately, an anti-fatigue mat won’t make a good pillow if you want to encourage napping at your business!

Written by Chris Martin

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