April 04, 2022 3 min read
Humans are a diurnal species, which means we’re meant to be active during the day and asleep at night. Science shows that this type of sleep-wake cycle is regulated by our internal biological clock on the one hand and the homeostatic drive for sleep on the other.
Shift work often goes against these natural rhythms, which can lead not only to poor sleep, but mental, metabolic, and other health problems. People working night shifts are at the greatest risk of developing these issues. To reduce the burden of shift work on your sleep and health, follow these tips.
A consistent sleep schedule is an important dimension of sleep and health. Aim to establish a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. If you work night shifts, stick to your usual sleep schedule even on days off. Your body takes time to adjust to a sleep routine, and it’s better not to disrupt it even when you have unusual sleep patterns.
Getting restful sleep when the world around you is wide awake is challenging. Optimize your bedroom with blackout shades/curtains, a white noise machine, and a cool temperature setting. Earplugs and an eye mask can further help block sleep-interrupting light and noise. Also, let everyone at home know when you’ll be sleeping and to be mindful of your need for sleep.
Caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco are all stimulants that are known to disrupt sleep. If you use caffeine during your night shift, take it at the beginning of your shift and avoid it in the hours before you plan to sleep. This rule can also apply to stimulating activities, like reading the news, watching TV, or anything that keeps your brain engaged.
Melatonin is a hormone that makes you feel sleepy. Its levels start to go up as the evening sets and in response to darkness. Melatonin supplements contain natural or synthetic melatonin and are available as pills, tinctures, or chewables. A 2016 study with 39 shift workers found that melatonin therapy helps people fall asleep and sleep longer.
If you’re on call, you only need to keep the ringer alert on. Turn off all other notifications that could wake you up and disrupt your sleep. Also, avoid checking your phone every time you wake up and before going to sleep. Not only is this mentally stimulating, but screens emit blue light that is known to suppress melatonin production.
Snoring can disrupt not only the snorer’s but the bed partner’s sleep as well. If you are a habitual snorer or sleep with one, an anti-snoring mouthpiece can help you get restful sleep during your shift work days. These devices, which include theGood Morning Snore Solution tongue-stabilizing device, are a quick and easy fix to chronic snoring problems.
Jehan S, Zizi F, Pandi-Perumal SR, et al. Shift Work and Sleep: Medical Implications and Management.Sleep Med Disord. 2017;1(2):00008.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836745/
Wehr TA, Aeschbach D, Duncan WC Jr. Evidence for a biological dawn and dusk in the human circadian timing system. J Physiol. 2001;535(Pt 3):937-951.doi:10.1111/j.1469-7793.2001.t01-1-00937.x
Lammers-van der Holst HM, Murphy AS, Wise J, Duffy JF. Sleep tips for shift workers in the time of pandemic.Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2020;20(4):128-130.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7189699/
Sadeghniiat-Haghighi K, Bahrami H, Aminian O, Meysami A, Khajeh-Mehrizi A. Melatonin therapy in shift workers with difficulty falling asleep: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover field study.Work. 2016;55(1):225-230.doi:10.3233/WOR-162376
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