Managing Sleep and Shift Work

LAST UPDATED: October 23, 2017

Considerations for shift work

Sleep loss and insufficient sleep associated with Charge of Quarters (CQ), Staff Duty, and shift work places Soldiers at risk for motor vehicle or work-related accidents and impairs decision-making and alertness. For those sleeping during the day, locate the sleep zone away from noise and traffic. Reduce or redirect traffic away from areas where shift workers sleep and understand shift work personnel need more time allotted for sleep.

  • Separate sleep areas based on shifts minimizes disruptions.
  • Enforce “lights out” and quiet hour's policies.
  • Coordinate with dining facility to ensure shift workers are able to get their meals so their sleep is not disrupted.

The brain’s alertness clock (circadian rhythm) is at its lowest point (circadian trough) during the hours of 0500–0900. During this period, Soldier alertness is compromised and Soldiers are at greatest risk of lapses in attention and uncontrollable sleep episodes. CQ and Staff duty should NOT end during the 0500–0900 timeframe because doing so places Soldiers on the road at a time when they are at greatest risk for POV accidents.

  • Recommendation: End staff/CQ duty at 1100 hours. This is the ideal circadian/physiological time to end an extended/overnight duty.
  • Encourage personnel on CQ to sleep if the mission allows.
  • After 24-hour duty, employ risk mitigation strategies such as napping after duty as well as prior to driving home. Another option is to drive the Soldier home by an alert staff duty driver or spouse.

Strategies for daytime sleep for shift workers

Leaders and Soldiers who must sleep during the day need to allow more time in bed (e.g. 9–10 hours) to obtain 7–8 hours of sleep. This extra time is needed to compensate for sleep disruptions due to the brain’s biological clock.

Daytime sleep can be divided into 2 periods: one in the early morning shortly after coming off duty, and a second period in the afternoon during the mid-afternoon lull in alertness.

Two daytime sleep periods: 6am-11am and 1pm-5pm

Suggested guide for Staff Duty or CQ

Two 12 hour shifts
Shift 1 Shift 2
Shift Time 1100 to 2300 2300 to 1100
Primary benefit Commute to/from CQ duty outside of circadian trough. Commute to/from CQ duty outside of circadian trough.
Secondary benefits Delayed reporting to duty allows personnel to sleep-in and attend to personal matters before duty starts. Driving to and from duty occurs during period of decreased motor vehicle traffic and minimizes risk of POV accidents.
Alertness tactics Encourage Soldier to sleep-in on morning of duty and delay reporting to work until beginning of CQ/Staff duty. Encourage Soldier to nap in the late afternoon or early evening prior to reporting to duty shift.
Return to duty Next day return possible with late arrival (e.g. 1000) to allow for sleep recovery. 1 day off prior to return to allow sleep recovery.
One 24 hour shift
Shift 1
Shift Time 1100 to 1100
Primary benefit Commute to/from CQ duty outside of circadian trough.
Secondary benefits Delayed reporting to duty allows personnel to sleep in and attend to personal matters before duty starts. Driving to and from duty occurs during period of decreased motor vehicle traffic and minimizes risk of POV accidents.
Alertness tactics Dose caffeine starting at approximately 2300h if the mission does not permit on-duty sleep.
Stop caffeine at least 6 hours prior to post-CQ sleep.
If on-duty sleep is possible, sleep as long as possible. Best sleep periods are in the early to mid-afternoon lull and morning circadian trough.
Use alternative sleeping facilities for those on duty.
Afternoon sleep prior to duty (more sleep is better).
Return to duty 1 day off prior to return to allow sleep recovery.

Effects of light on alertness

There is some evidence that sources of light found in office and at home (e.g. light from computers, smart phones and other hand-held electronics), boosts alertness.

Use bright electric light to boost alertness particularly for shift workers. Research has shown that using this lighting improves alertness and reduces accidents.

While this alertness boost may be useful for night and shift workers, this can lead to poor sleep quality and duration.

There are several tools that can be used to minimize light exposure to maximize ability to sleep.

To date, only three devices have evidence that they block light and improve sleep:

  1. Dynamic screen controller
  2. Article comparing LED lamps
  3. Glasses and lamps

NOTE: Use of trademarked name(s) does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army but is intended only to assist in identification of specific products.

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