Life Hacks: Coping with the Night Shift
What do call center agents, doctors, firefighters, nurses, and truck drivers have in common? They all work the night shift. Working the night shift is highly challenging for anyone, whether they are an early bird or a night owl.
One of the most defining characteristics of today's modern society is how people are always on the go, 24/7. In the United States, almost 15 million individuals work night shifts, evening shifts, rotational shifts, or other irregular schedules. Nearly 20% of people in Europe now work at night, up from an average of 10% 10 or 15 years ago.
The National Sleep Foundation claimed there is a connection between shift work, long working hours, and several health issues. These health issues could range from increasing metabolic problems to heart disease to obesity to particular cancers.
Additionally, the body's capacity to repair DNA damage brought on by normal cellular processes may be hampered by night shift labor. Melatonin, the hormone controlling the body clock internally, may be suppressed.
There are several reasons people must work through the night. Finding coping mechanisms might mean the difference between leading a healthy life and being exposed to increased health and safety concerns that come with working nights.
Here are some coping strategies for individuals who work after dark:
Manage Your Sleeping Pattern
There are two types of night shift workers. Some are capable of working at night without issues, and some often experience constant sleep deprivation and fatigue. This stems from basic human nature: We are built to sleep at night.
Our bodies possess an internal body clock, otherwise known as a circadian pacemaker. Circadian rhythms are produced from where the circadian pacemaker is, regulating behavioral and physiological processes in the body, including alertness, sleep temperature control, and hormone production.
Adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night to function well. Night shift employees, in that case, need to successfully manage sleeping during the day – to keep sleep dept to a minimum – and fatigue during the night. Due to light, noise, and temperature, daytime sleep may be lighter, shorter, and of worse quality than nighttime sleep.
Try these strategies to manage your sleep and create a sleep-friendly environment.
Do not delay going to sleep – the longer you wait, the more awake you are likely to become.
Set aside time for sleep – set aside a block of 7 – 9 hours and dedicate it to sleep after a night shift.
Ensure that you ate or drank something before sleeping – hunger or thirst may wake you up.
Avoid alcohol before you go to sleep – although it may aid in falling asleep, alcohol lowers the quality of your sleep and interrupts the deep stages, which makes you feel drained the next day.
Avoid smoking before you go to sleep – nicotine is a stimulant, making it difficult to fall asleep.
Refrain from activities that could leave you feeling alert – avoid them until the hours before your next shift.
Prepare your bedroom for sleep – ensure that your room is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Blackout curtains and earplugs can block out sunshine and daytime noise, respectively. Electric fans can help maintain airflow and provide background noise.
Communicate your working hours with others – inform your family and friends of your work schedule, so they do not disturb you.
Remember that a person will likely have more sleep debt after the final shift of a block of night shifts if they have worked through the night more days in a row. People will recover more rapidly if they can pay off some of their sleep debt as soon as possible.
Control Light Exposure
When exposed to light, the circadian pacemaker, which controls your sleep and waking cycles, undergoes chemical changes. For instance, melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone that the body produces as it gets dark in the evening. The body suppresses melatonin and increases cortisol levels to feel more awake in the morning. Similar to how sunshine affects the circadian pacemaker, artificial light can also affect sleep cycles when exposed to it at specific times.
According to a study in 2013, night-shift workers who were exposed to bright light during their shift and wore sunglasses on the way home to suppress light drifted off to sleep quicker and slept for longer after their shift than people who received no bright light exposure.
A study in 2013 discovered night shift employees who were exposed to intense light while working and covered their eyes with sunglasses on the way home slept longer after their shift than those who did not.
Moreover, another study published in 2004 found that sporadic light exposure is almost as practical as continual exposure.
Individuals, whether they work during the day or the night, should be wary of blue light exposure emitted from digital devices before going to sleep, especially night shift employees. It is suggested that blue light disrupts the circadian rhythm, signaling to the brain that it is daytime, further increasing poor sleep quality.
Try to follow the strategies below to control light exposure.
Increase bright light exposure during your shift – you can use regular overhead lights, a bright desk lamp, or a lightbox.
Decrease light exposure after your shift – you can attempt this by wearing sunglasses on your way home.
Block out daylight – use blinds, curtains, drapes, or a sleeping mask to block daylight in your bedroom.
Avoid watching television – switch off the TV briefly before going to sleep.
Switch off digital devices in your bedroom – turn off computers and tablets, set your phone aside, and cover bright alarm clocks to reduce lights.
Your body will stay asleep until it is time to wake up and begin the day if your bedroom is kept dark.
Monitor Your Eating Habits
Due to poor diet and disruption of the body clock, night shift workers are more prone to develop metabolic syndrome and have a 23% greater risk of being overweight or obese. Having a diet plan can make it easier to stay alert during working hours and fall asleep when work is over. People can consider trying the following techniques:
Follow similar eating patterns – keep it identical to your daily food course.
Eat little, but often – frequent light meals and healthy snacks can help prevent drowsiness from eating heavy meals.
Eat easy-to-digest foods – examples include bread, rice, pasta, salad, milk products, fruits, and vegetables.
Avoid foods that are difficult to digest – these include fried, spicy, and processed meals.
Dodge sugary foods – despite the short-term energy boost these foods provide, remember that an energy dip is around the corner.
Snack on fruits and vegetables - these foods' sugars are a vital supply of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and a gradual energy source.
Stay hydrated – avoid filling the bladder to the brim before sleep, even when trying to improve both physical and mental performance.
Finding a grocery shop and suitable kitchen facilities for night workers can be difficult. To ensure that they eat correctly and remain alert, people should be prepared and bring food to work.
Take a Short Nap
The ability to slumber can become crucial to functioning securely overnight. While a quick nap before a shift can help with fatigue management, a more extended snooze during your break may be necessary for preserving alertness and staying vigilant.
It has been demonstrated that napping midway helps the brain function better. Short naps ranging from 20 to 45 minutes can help shift employees combat weariness.
For night shift workers, naps must not exceed 45 minutes. There are different stages in a sleep cycle, completed in between 90 – 100 minutes. A sleep cycle runs from light to deep sleep.
People should be aware of how long they slumber to avoid waking up while deeply asleep. When someone wakes up from a deep sleep, there is more substantial sleep inertia, which makes it take longer to feel aware and rested.
Drink Caffeine Wisely
Caffeine is a well-known, highly utilized stimulant. When taken sensibly, a daily dose of coffee can support someone's ability to stay alert for the duration of a shift. However, incorrect use might result in nausea and trembling in the muscles.
Most people start their shifts with a massive dosage of coffee to get their day going. But according to a study, shift workers use a different strategy to maximize the benefits of coffee.
Employees who consume smaller but more frequent doses of caffeine throughout the day are more likely to stay awake, perform better on cognitive tests, and further prevent accidental naps than those with no caffeine.
To avoid the stimulant affecting sleep, people should cease ingesting caffeine around six hours before bed.
Because each person is unique, it may take some time to determine the optimal tactics for a particular person. People may be able to cope with working at night and getting the necessary amount of sleep to operate generally by putting some of the ideas mentioned above into practice.