Sleep Advice for the Shift Worker
There are two kinds of people who work the night shift: those who adjust well and those who don’t. But one thing that researchers agree on is that working the graveyard shift can cause ill effects on your health.
Studies have long discovered that working overnight disrupts your body’s natural clock. The mind tells you to sleep when night comes, and to wake up once light arrives. But when your body has to do the exact opposite, it can cause the body to react in irregular ways.
Scientific Research on The Ill Effects of Night Shift On Your Health
A study done at the Sleep Research Centre in Surrey, United Kingdom, concluded that working overnight has profound effects on the body, leading to altered production of hormones, irregular body temperature, reduced athletic ability, and disrupted mood and brain function.
All of these negative consequence occur because 97% of the body’s rhythmic schedule is disrupted due to lack of sleep, or sleep that’s mistimed.
According to the British Medical Journal, working the night shift that leads to deprived rest can increase one’s risk of a heart attack.
And in another study published in a 2012 issue of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal concludes that women who work overnight over a prolonged period of time increases their risk for breast cancer by up to 40%.
Other negative effects of working at night are: increased risk for diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.
In a recent study done by Judith A. Simcox, Ph.D., and others at the University of Utah, they discovered that eating iron-rich foods can cause irregular metabolic activity if you work at night.
Foods such as steak, spinach, brown rice, and green vegetables are highly rich in iron. Eating these kinds of food before and while working the night shift disrupts the liver’s circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is your body’s natural internal clock that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. The liver also has its own clock in terms of regulating blood sugar levels. It maintains a stable blood sugar level when people are asleep and it reaches its peak just before you wake up.
Now what happens when you’re awake when your liver expects you to be asleep? This irregular sleeping and waking pattern can drive the liver to overdrive, leading to irregular metabolic activity and blood sugar levels that can cause a variety of diseases and illnesses.
How to Survive the Night Shift
If going to work at night is inevitable in your line of work – whether you work as a nurse, a fire fighter, or in a clinic, it doesn’t mean your health has to suffer. There are certain things you can do to help you survive the night:
1. Sleep in the Afternoon – Take some time to sleep before your first night shift. This will give you your much needed rest to provide you the energy to last the night.
2. Shower and Eat “Breakfast” – When you wake up from that afternoon nap, act as if you just woke up in the morning. Take a shower, eat your “breakfast,” and read a newspaper. By behaving in a way that follows your circadian rhythm during the day, you can trick your brain into thinking that it’s daytime. This helps make the transition easier on your body.
3. Time Your Caffeine – The only time you should be drinking caffeine is before your night shift. Never drink coffee or tea when you’re about to wrap up your shift – you’ll make it harder for you to get your much needed sleep.
4. Keep Moving – Never remain seated for the duration of your shift. Being idle in a chair lowers blood flow, which will make you feel sluggish and sleepy. Stand up, move around, and stretch your arms and legs. This will energize you and keep you awake.
5. Talk – Talk to your co workers and engage in conversations. Keep the night alive by becoming interested in other people – in other words, keep yourself entertained.
6. Eat Small Portions Throughout the Night – Feed yourself with complex carbohydrates to fuel your energy. But don’t eat a heavy meal. Eating small snacks every hour or two will maintain your regular sugar levels and keep you energized.
7. Set a Sleeping Schedule – When you’re on your way home, wear glasses, a jacket, and stay away from bustling places. Head straight home, pull down the curtains, and get your much needed sleep. And you must always sleep and wake at the same time each day to make the gradual shift to your new circadian rhythm.
Though working the night shift can be hazardous to your health, there are certain things you can do to survive the night and still keep your health intact.