Top 5 Rules When Preparing For Night Shift
Written by Dr. Kiran Iqbal.
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Any nurse, hospital intern, or security guard on the night shift would attest that sleep deprivation is one of the most daunting aspects of their work.
However, human beings are a highly adaptive species.
Just like fitness training is a matter of continually testing and conquering our existing physical limits, adjusting to a nocturnal routine is also within the bounds of our adaptability.
All it takes is a little effort to understand how sleep patterns work about our biology and use that information to work out a balance.
Our natural cycle of sleep and wakefulness is part of a circadian rhythm, an internal clock that guides how we feel and behave through the different phases of the day.
This rhythm is dependent on the amount of light our senses perceive. When it gets dark, the circadian centers in our brains produce a hormone called melatonin.
This hormone works to prepare us for the night by making us sleepy and tired.
Mastering the night shift means going against this natural program.
Still, several steps can be taken to overcome these bounds and find a good answer to the often-asked question: how can I stay awake on the night shift?
1. Practice Altered Sleep Pattern Beforehand
Unless you want to spend the first few night shifts wracked by sub-par work performance, you must start resetting your internal clock beforehand.
Shifting to a day-night cycle can take up to a week.
Begin this practice by trying to stay awake for a whole night. Keep yourself engaged in a task that requires you to stay alert.
Only go to bed after the sun rises, keeping light cues to a minimum.
This process will feel hard in the beginning, and you might end up feeling fatigued or drowsy during the early days.
However, in time for your night shift a week later, you’ll notice that your body has adjusted to a new sleep routine.
Before your shift, catch a good 7-9 hours of sleep in the daytime. This sleep “back-up” will further help you power through the night with minimal drowsiness.
2. Increase Exposure to Bright Lights
Sometimes you might experience sudden onslaughts of sleepiness on the job despite altering sleep patterns beforehand.
Exposure to bright light is a handy trick to counter such a situation. Our internal clock perceives light as a cue to drive the body into alertness.
Artificial light is no different from sunlight when it comes to circadian signaling.
In addition, intermittent exposure to LED lights and desk lamps can delay the release of melatonin and help your body stay awake.
Any light source is your best friend here; keep them close at hand during a night shift.
According to a study, people who exposed themselves to bright light during shifts and used sunglasses to avoid light exposure on the way home succeeded in getting sounder sleep post-shift instead of their peers who had no light exposure.
This means that light exposure must also be kept to a minimum when you’re trying to catch up on sleep in the morning after the shift. Invest in a pair of dark sunglasses, blackout curtains, and sleep masks to facilitate better sleep.
3. Caffeinate, Smartly
Caffeine is a widely used workplace stimulant. The ideal way to utilize its benefits on the night shift is to use it in a regulated and scheduled way.
One large cup of coffee before the start of the shift sounds tempting but is neither as helpful nor healthy as smaller doses throughout.
In fact, science has shown that smaller, more frequent doses of caffeine lead to better cognitive and overall functionality during prolonged periods of wakefulness.
Spaced-out and smaller caffeine intake also helps avoid various side-effects of excessive, upfront dosing like stomach aches, shakiness, and anxiety.
Additionally, smaller doses are less likely to interfere with your chances of falling asleep soon after getting home.
4. Stay Active and Keep Busy
There is a reason why experts studying sleep recommend avoiding vigorous exercise during the later evening hours.
Anyone wishing to stay awake at night can definitely use the energy boost exercise imparts on our bodies.
It doesn’t have to be an extended workout, although that also is recommended.
Taking a quick walk and doing some stretches or jumping jacks are effective ways of staying energetic during your night shift.
The same can be said of keeping busy with tasks that need you to engage your mental faculties.
The pursuit of a work-related goal, for example. It can help push through any lingering drowsiness to arrive at a more alert and active mental state.
5. Use Scheduled Breaks for Naps and Nutrition
Hydration and proper meals go a long way in keeping you awake for your night shift, as metabolism is also thrown off balance along with your sleep schedule.
Make sure to pack healthy meals from home.
This is not to caution against the unavailability of good meal options at a late hour; there is a documented increase in metabolic problems and obesity in night shift workers.
It is best for night shift workers to take frequent light meals consisting of bread, rice, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid fried or processed foods, as these can take a long time to digest.
What’s more, a nap during your break can be restorative. Take out 20-45 minutes from your scheduled break to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
Keep below 45 minutes; these power naps help lower fatigue levels and leave you feeling ready to take on the rest of your shift.
Depending on your individual make-up, it may take you less or more time and effort than average to adapt to a night shift. Giving these tips a try can help you a great deal.
What’s important is that you take conscious care of your health while making these changes.
As you make your transition to the night shift, bring family members on board, and build a support system catering to your emotional needs.
If things still don’t seem to be working out, don’t hesitate to consult a GP who can help you work out a better-suited method for your health and happiness.