Survival tips: How to deal with night shifts

Survival tips: How to deal with night shifts

What do they all have in common doctors, nurses, firefighters, truck drivers and air traffic controllers? Many of them make nocturnal shifts. If you’re an early riser or a night owl, nighttime work shifts can be demanding. We’ve gathered some tips to help you deal with late and early daytime working.

A lady working at night
Night shifts can prove challenging for the body and mind, but there are steps that you can take to help you cope better.

Nearly 15 million people in the United States work full time night shifts, evening shifts, rotational shifts, or other other sporadic schedules because of our current 24-hour society. However, almost 19 per cent of adult employees work every week for 48 hours or more, and more than 7 per cent work every week for 60 hours or more.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, shift work and long working hours are linked to a number of health issues. These include an increased risk of metabolic issues, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, obesity, and some cancers.

Night shift work can also interfere with the ability of the body to repair the DNA damage resulting from normal cellular processes. Melatonin suppression — which is the hormone responsible for controlling the internal body clock — may play a role.

There are several causes individuals need to work through the night. The difference between leading a healthier life and being exposed to the many health and safety threats that are exacerbated during night shifts may be finding ways to cope. Below are coping methods for Nccmed operating after midnight.

Manage sleep patterns

Many people will function with no problem at all at night while others experience lack of sleep and fatigue. That is because at night, the human body is designed to sleep.

A lady Sleeping
Ensure that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool to promote better sleep.

The human body is regulated by an internal body clock, or circadian pacemaker, located inside the hypothalamus’s suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN generates circadian rhythms which regulate the body’s behavioral and physiological processes including alertness, sleep, temperature control, and production of hormones.

Circadian rhythms run in intervals of 24 hours and are strongly influenced by natural light and dark intervals. Some of the processes that are involved in your body during the day slow down at night to prepare you for the sleep.

Night shifts cause you to fight off your normal cycles by attempting to be alert when you’re scheduled to sleep. Likewise, when you go home after a night shift, the internal body clock signals and daytime light exposure tell you to be awake and active.

Adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep in order to work at its peak. If you sleep for less than that number, you can incur “sleep debt.” The only way to repay sleep debt is to catch up on the lost sleep, so that needs to be as soon as possible after it has happened.

Night-time work includes handling your daytime sleep effectively — that is, holding sleep debt to a minimum — and your night-time tiredness. Because of light, noise and temperature, daytime sleep may be lighter, shorter and of lesser quality than night sleep.

Take these steps to keep your sleep under control, and make your world more sleep-friendly.

  • Do not delay going to bed. The longer you delay going to bed, the more awake you are likely to become.
  • Try to set aside a block of 7 to 9 hours to dedicate to sleep after a night shift.
  • Have something to eat and drink before you go to bed. Pangs of hunger or thirst may wake you up.
  • Avoid alcohol before you try to sleep. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep, but it diminishes sleep quality and disturbs the deep stages of sleep, which will leave you feeling unrefreshed the next day.
  • Avoid smoking before bed. Nicotine is a stimulant and can therefore cause you to experience difficulties in getting to sleep.
  • Stay away from activities that make you feel more alert until the hours before your next shift.
  • Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Use earplugs to block out daytime noise and blackout curtains to prevent daylight entering the room. Electric fans can be useful to keep air circulating and provide neutral background noise.
  • Notify friends and family of your working hours so that they do not disturb you.

If this is your last shift in a series of night shifts, note that the more days you’ve worked through the night in a row, the more sleep debt you’ll possibly have accrued. Paying back some of the sleep debt you’re building as soon as possible would help you heal faster.

Control light exposure

Exposure to light suggests chemical events that the circadian pacemaker will cause which will affect your cycles of sleep and wake. Melatonin, for example, is released when it gets dark in the evening to make you feel drowsy, while melatonin is suppressed and morning light elevates cortisol to make you feel alert.

A man wearing black grasses
Wear sunglasses on your journey home to suppress light exposure.

Similar to sunlight, artificial light can influence your circadian pacemaker, and controlled exposure to bright light will help shift your body’s sleep cycle.

You may try to “trick” your body into an alert state with exposure to bright light during night shifts, and encourage sleep by suppressing after-shift light exposure.

Research has shown that night workers who during their shift were exposed to bright light and wearing sunglasses on the way home to block light drifted off to sleep faster and slept longer after their shift than people who didn’t get bright light exposure. Furthermore, another study found that intermittent exposure to bright light is almost as effective as continual exposure.

Beware of blue light emission emitted from digital devices, such as your smartphone, laptop or TV, before going to bed after a night shift. Research has indicated that blue light hits off-kilter at our circadian rhythms, which signals to your brain that it is daytime and results in reduced quality of sleep.

Ways of regulating your light exposure include:

  • increasing bright light exposure during your shift with regular overhead lights or a bright desk lamp or lightbox
  • wearing sunglasses on your journey home
  • using blackout blinds, curtains, or drapes or a sleep mask to block out daylight in your bedroom
  • not watching TV before you go to bed
  • switching off digital devices situated in your bedroom, including powering down tablets and computers, putting your phone away, and blocking light from bright alarm clocks

Keeping your bedroom dark will help keep your body in sleep mode before you have time to wake up and start your day.Keeping your bedroom dark will help to keep your body in sleep mode until it is time for you to wake up and begin your day.

Watch your diet

When traditional everyday routine is thrown off balance, metabolism is like that too. Night shift workers are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome and have an increased 29 percent chance of being overweight or obese due to poor diet and body clock disruption.

Planning your meals will help you stay alert and relax when you need to sleep during your working hours.

Eating healthy food or fruits
Take healthful foods and snacks to work to both keep you alert and prevent obesity.
  • Try to stick to a similar eating pattern to the one that you would follow during the daytime.
  • Eat frequent light meals or healthful snacks to avoid the drowsiness that is associated with heavy meals.
  • Choose foods that are easy for your body to digest, including bread, rice, pasta, salad, milk products, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Avoid foods that are difficult to digest, such as fried, spicy, and processed meals.
  • Steer clear of sugary foods. Although they provide a short-term energy boost, this is quickly followed by an energy dip.
  • Snack on fruits and vegetables. Sugars from these are converted slowly into energy, and they are an important source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Keep hydrated while you are working to promote physical and mental performance, but do not overload the bladder with fluid before bed.

Access to the grocery store and appropriate food storage facilities can be challenging for night laborers. Be prepared and carry food to work to ensure you eat well and remain alert.

Take a nap

Taking a nap can become an integral part of overnight healthy work. Although a short nap may help counter exhaustion before you start your shift, a nap during your break can be crucial to retain alertness and stay vigilant.

A nap taken midway through the day has been shown to boost and restore brainpower. Even naps of 20 to 45 minutes in length have proven beneficial for shift workers to counteract fatigue.

Ideally your night shift naps will be no more than 45 minutes long. Sleep consists of different stages, which end in periods of between 90 and 100 minutes. One period of sleep ranges from light sleep to deep sleep.

Be careful how long you’ll sleep so you won’t wake up during deep sleep. Deep sleep waking is correlated with a higher degree of sleep inertia, which means you can take longer to feel alert and not feel refreshed.

Use caffeine wisely

Caffeine acts as a stimulant. When used with great care, your regular dose of coffee will help you stay alert during a move. Nonetheless, excessive use can cause muscle shakes and gastrointestinal upsets.

Small regular doses of caffeine can enhance wakefulness and help you to perform better.
Small regular doses of caffeine can enhance wakefulness and help you to perform better.

Before the start of their change most people take a big dose of coffee to jump-start their day. Research however suggests taking a different approach to optimizing the impact of caffeine on shift workers.

Workers who drank less — equal to quarters of coffee cups — and more regular doses of caffeine during their day reported wakefulness improvement, performed better on cognitive tests, and had less accidental naps than those without caffeine.

Some evidence indicates that after about 20 minutes, the effects of caffeine kick in, and a small dose of caffeine before a nap will combat the sleep inertia that you may feel after you wake up.

Usage of coffeine should be stopped approximately 6 hours before bedtime to ensure the stimulant does not affect the sleep.

Every individual is different so it can take time to find the right combination of techniques that best suits you. Applying any of the above techniques will help you better deal with nighttime jobs and make sure you get the right amount of sleep to work properly.


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