The sleep requirement for adults aged 18-64 is between seven to nine hours. If we can get this as an uninterrupted sleep at night, that is preferable. However, there are a lot of people who have to take a nap during the daytime.
It may be due to inadequate night sleep, fatigue or simply because they don’t have enough time to sleep at night due to work commitments. In any case, sleeping less than six hours or more than ten is not advisable.
For a person with a regular 9-5 job, considering daily commute and other activities, it leaves about 13-14 hours to fix the sleep time. These people are better off with a continuous night's sleep.
For shift workers, daytime sleeping is often unavoidable. There is a perception that sleeping during the day is not good for health. While there is some truth to it, it is not as bad as thought.
While it is a must for shift workers, even regular workers may also benefit from a short nap (must be less than 30 minutes). However, the nap should be taken early enough so that it does not interfere with the regular night's sleep.
How should shift workers plan their sleep? Some people go home, stay up for a few hours and then go to bed and try to have an uninterrupted sleep of approximately 7-8 hours. Others follow what can be called a split-sleep practice. These people take a small nap as soon as they come home.
After that, they wake up, conduct their day-to-day business and again go to sleep, this time for a longer period. They schedule their second nap in a way that they wake up a few hours before their shift starts.
Which option is better? According to a team of German researchers led by Dr Kunath, both are almost equally effective. He suggests that planning is the key so that we can start the work with a refreshed body and mind. This includes following a set time to go to sleep, including weekends and vacations.
People who work the same shift every day can do it. But what about those who need to work on a rotating shift basis? In this case, if possible, we may try to plan the shifts forward. For example, if someone is working morning today, he/she can do afternoon next and then night. This is easier for the body to adjust too than a drastic change.
For daytime sleep, there are a few things we should practice. If someone is working in the afternoon shift, it is advisable to have the main meal of the day in the middle of the day, not during the shift. If the shift is at night, it may be beneficial to have a light meal during the shift and then a moderate breakfast in the morning.
Caffeine is known for its stimulating properties. So it is better to avoid it up to 3-4 hours before bedtime. Also practising a relaxing routine before going to bed, e.g. meditation, taking a warm shower etc. may help to calm our mind and prepare us for sleep.
A note of caution, despite the benefits of short naps during the day, if it becomes excessive then this is a symptom of sleep disorder. These people are at various health risks and need to consult a physician as soon as possible.