Working the night shift (usually defined as 10 PM to 6 AM) can be very disruptive to the sleep cycle. Our bodies operate naturally according to the Circadian Rhythm; we sleep when it's dark and wake when it's light; so for evening shift workers, getting a healthy amount of sleep during daylight hours can be a challenge. In more serious cases it can be defined as Shift Work Disorder, but for most people there are four steps you can take to make sure you get the sleep you need.
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Make sleep a priority. Ideally everyone should get seven to eight hours of sleep every 24 hours. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the first thing you need to do is go to bed as soon as possible after work. An eight hour shift tends to give people that "tired but wired" feeling that makes you want to run errands, hang out with friends or stay up and watch television. While there are always things that have to get done, your body craves routine, so establish a set time to go to bed and stick to it (that includes off days).
Create an environment. Make sure your family, friends or roommates know how important it is for you to get your eight hours of sleep, and ask them to refrain from making too much noise. Start preparing for bed early by turning off the television and radio and dimming the lights an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Do something soothing like reading, writing or using aromatherapy to help you relax. If you have to, turn off your phone and use a sleep mask that blocks out the light.
Watch your diet. Caffeine stays in your system for up to six hours after it's consumed, so that last pick-me-up before the end of the night could wreak havoc on your sleep cycle. Remember, soft drinks and chocolate are a hidden source of caffeine, so try switching to decaffeinated coffee and soothing that sweet tooth with fruit or granola bars. If you're a smoker, nicotine is a stimulant and a cigarette right before bed will interrupt your sleep. Although alcohol acts as a depressant and you may fall asleep quickly, once your body goes into withdrawal, you are likely to experience fitful sleep.
Get serious. If you're experiencing increased difficulty concentrating, memory problems or have any close calls while driving or operating machinery, it may be time to see a doctor or look into participating in a sleep study. Shift Work Disorder is a medically-recognised condition that can be treated with prescription medication and cognitive or behavioural therapy.
Tips and warnings
- Don't change shifts too often. Your body needs continuity.
- Use your days off wisely and rest.
- If you don't have a sleep mask, covering your windows with dark fabric is another solution.
- Avoid doing things like reading, studying or talking on the phone in bed. You should only use your bed for sleep.
- Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature (between 12.2 and 23.8 degrees C)
- Don't eat large meals right before going to bed, your body will work to digest the food and keep you up.
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