Surviving the night shift
Tuesday 16th September
Most people will agree working the night shift comes with a unique set of challenges. One of the biggest issues night workers face is getting enough sleep. Working through the night overrides our natural circadian rhythm, which dictates when we go to sleep. When you reverse this, you’ll be getting dressed and heading into work when your body naturally wants to sleep, and when you come home, even if you’re exhausted, you can find it harder to rest.
For many careers, the night shift is something that comes with the territory. However, there are some techniques that can be used to help you, or if you’re an employer or HR manager help your staff, adapt and ensure you get as much sleep as you need.
Anyone who has tried to sleep during the day will know that the world is a noisy, bright place. If you can, try to adapt your bedroom to daytime resting. Invest in heavy curtains, blackout blinds or an eye mask to keep light to a minimum. Avoid using your room for anything other than sleeping. Try to control the level of noise as much as possible - discuss with your housemates or family, and, if possible, your neighbours about how they can help. Invest in some decent ear plugs and turn off the phone.
Resist the caffeine
Tired? Coffee can seem like the answer. But studies have shown that shift workers that rely on caffeine found it harder to nod off once they were home and trying to sleep than those that don’t. Even if you can’t kick the habit, try to avoid it in the last couple of hours before you go to sleep.
You’re exhausted - you probably want to get home and get straight under the covers. But you may sleep better if you can wind down a bit first. Reading a book, going for a short walk or having a warm (not hot) bath can help.
One of the biggest challenges is switching between day shifts and night shifts. Our bodies find it difficult to adjust that quickly and often. If you can, try to start shifting your sleep pattern a couple of days before you start by going to bed later, and changing when you eat.
Try to embrace it
It can seem like the hardest thing when it’s 4am, you’re tired to your bones, freezing cold and it feels like the rest of the world is in a deep sleep, but trying to find something good about the night shift might help. Just think, no rush hour traffic, a handy excuse to avoid social engagements you’d rather not go to and that sense of camaraderie that you will probably never get with the same people working the day shift.
This article has been brought to you using public health information freely available online (click on links in the article for more information). benenden health has not provided any direct medical advice within this article. Please consult the sources provided if you would like further information or support.
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