“I Need a Nap!” — It’s time to sleep on shift.

Recently I was meeting with a team of union leaders and managers to discuss their shift schedules and our process for evaluating shift schedules and finding better alternatives. One of the things I often do during the introduction part of the meeting is to ask people to tell me what they want to discuss over the next couple of hours. In this meeting, one of the union leaders semi-jokingly said he wanted to know “when is the best time to sleep on shift?”

Well, that turns out to be a good question. Most of us have probably experienced the alertness boost resulting from a short duration nap. Studies have shown that both alertness levels and performance can improve when shift workers are allowed to sleep on night shifts.

Unfortunately, most organizations have no provision for sleeping on shift. The concerns raised are often around the manageability of the naps. Questions like:

  • How do we ensure people come back to work?
  • How do we keep people safe while they are napping?
  • How do we ensure the nap rooms are only used for naps?
  • What about sanitation?
  • You mean you want me to pay someone to sleep!?
  • If someone doesn’t need a nap, do we have to give them an extra break?
  • If one person takes a nap, and another doesn’t, is that fair?

I have some ideas for addressing some of these concerns, though not all of them. To the question about paying someone to nap, my answer is: If a person needs a nap, you can’t afford NOT to pay them to take a nap. A single mistake can cost much more than a 20-30 minute break for a nap. Especially if the 20-30 minute nap time is created by combining a break period and a nap period.

Let’s ignore the “mistake avoided” benefit for a moment and do some quick math:

  • Assume that a person working a 12-hour night shift is given 15 minutes of nap time that can be taken in conjunction with either a normal break or a lunch break. The extra time can only be used in the nap room.
  • If a person uses their nap break in conjunction with their 30-minute mid-shift lunch, they will come back to their workstation with 5.75 hours of work to complete before their shift is over. Since that 5.75 hours includes another paid break, assume that they actually only have 5.5 hours of actual work time remaining. 5.5 hours x 60 minutes = 330 minutes.
  • A 15-minute investment for the nap will require a 15 minutes/330 minutes or 4.5% improvement in productivity to break even.

Is a 4.5% productivity improvement feasible? That probably depends on the situation. If the work is self-paced, tedious, or intellectually challenging, the answer is almost always going to be “yes”. In many cases, the improvement will be significantly more than 4.5%, and the shift worker will be happier and safer.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585.

When should your shifts start?

As a Plant Manager or Human Resources Manager, in a shiftwork operation, you’ve certainly heard “Everyone that I know wants to start the shifts at such-and-such a time.”  You hear this but the question is – What do you do about it?

Should you survey the workforce and let them choose?  Do you have your own idea that possibly is soundly based on a certain business needs?  Can you have multiple shift times?  Can you try one time and then a different time and see which people like best?

This can be a complicated issue.  It can also have a profound impact on how your workforce views their workplace.  If you “impose” a start time then expect to hear a lot of “What we want doesn’t matter.”  If you leave it up to them, then be ready for them to choose something outside of your comfort zone as a manager.

I would like to make two simple points with this blog.  

The first point is, it is always a good idea to look for ways that the workforce can control their work environment.  Letting them choose something as small as a start time for their shift says, “We, as a company, believe that you know best what start time works for you.  You pick it and we’ll support it.”  This is a great message.

The second point is to make sure that you will be okay with what they choose.  This is true with start times or lunch menus or whatever you want them to pick.  

My rule of thumb on start times is that the Day shift shouldn’t start any earlier than 6:00 am.  If you think this is a good idea (read below) then you would make that a condition when you let them pick a start time.

So, what’s wrong with starting before 6:00 am?  Most 8-hour operations have the day shift start between 6:00 am and 7:00 am. The afternoon shift would start 8 hours later; the night shift, 8 hours earlier. For 12-hour shifts, employee preferences for start times tend to be about 30 minutes earlier than their preferences for 8-hour shifts. So, if you are on an 8-hour schedule that has a day shift that starts at 6:30 am, expect the workforce to want a 6:00 am start time for 12-hour shifts.

Our research has shown that employees starting at 6:00 am get about 20 minutes less sleep per night than those starting at 7:00 am. Before you run out and change your schedule, consider the following: (1) shift workers are typically locked into whatever start time you currently have. They will resist change. (2) The later the day shift starts, the later the night shift gets off. This is the trade-off. Ideally, a night shift would end early enough to allow the night shift to get home before the sun comes out. This means getting off earlier rather than later.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585.

Alertness on 12-hour night shifts

The problem with all night shifts, regardless of shift length, is that they don’t match up with the lifestyles of the rest of the world. On nights, you are expected to be awake when everyone else is asleep and then you are to sleep when everyone else is awake. A pretty tall order.

Most shift workers on nights report getting less sleep than on any other shift. There are several reasons for this. First of all, if your circadian rhythms are set to keep you awake during the days and asleep at night, they will actually be working against you. Secondly, we don’t like to sleep during daylight hours because we have family and social opportunities that we don’t want to miss. Finally, there is the sleep environment itself. It is hard to completely isolate yourself from the lights and sounds of the day when you are trying to sleep.

All of this means we sleep less when working nights. The problem with 8-hour shifts is that there are a lot of them. This generally means that the more shifts in a row you work, the farther you fall behind in your sleep. At the same time, the more shifts in a row you work, the abler your body is to match your circadian rhythms to your new sleep pattern, thus improving sleep. So, on the one hand, more days in a row means more fatigue while, on the other hand, more shifts in a row means better sleep – eventually.

Now let’s consider 12-hour shifts. There are a lot fewer shifts to work if you switch from 8-hour shifts to 12’s. This generally means that you will only be working 2-4 night shifts in a row instead of 5-7 8-hour shifts in a row.

One popular schedule pattern is the 2-3-2. On this schedule, you work 2 or 3 nights in a row before getting a 2 or 3-day break. The good news is that you don’t work too many nights in a row so you never fall too far behind in your sleep. The bad news is that since you work fewer nights in a row, you never get a chance to adjust to the shift. Additionally, you only have a few days off between shifts (on some patterns) which means you may have trouble readjusting to days (on your days off) as well.

If you go to a 4-on-4-off pattern, you will work more nights in a row and thus, fall farther behind in your sleep. However, the more nights in a row means (1) your body will adjust better to the night shift than if you worked fewer nights in a row and (2) more in a row means fewer times that you need to readjust to nights when you return to work and finally (3) you have 4 days off in a row which gives you a chance to adjust to days on your days off.

A 2-3-2 pattern means that you have to adjust to night shifts 78 times a year. A 4-on-4-off pattern only has 46 adjustments to nights in a year.

So, what is best for you? It comes down to your own behavior. If you find that you cannot adjust to nights at all, it is better to work fewer night shifts in a row to limit your accumulated sleep debt. If you adjust easily to nights, work more of them in a row to minimize those difficult first couple of days that we all go through when making the adjustment.

Call or text us today at (415) 858-8585