Most people in the caring professions, at least at some point in their career, will work night shifts.
Care for the frail and elderly doesn’t only happen during business hours. People who need care often require it around the clock.
Working night shift suits some people. The flexible hours may fit in with family responsibilities. The extra loading for working at night is also appealing. Some prefer to work at night because there are fewer visitors and management staff present, meaning there might be fewer distractions as your go about your work.
Working at night interrupts the body clock
But working at night places a great strain on the body.
Humans have an internal clock – known as circadian rhythms – that tells them when it’s time to sleep, and when it’s time to wake up.
Working night shift disrupts your body’s natural sleep patterns.
When you’re working at night, you might feel overwhelmingly tired at some point because your body is telling you it’s time to go to sleep.
And when you’re trying to sleep, you might struggle to fall asleep, or you might fall asleep, but wake up shortly afterwards and not be able to get back to sleep.
Working at night can also increase the likelihood of work-related accidents, it can affect mood, cause stomach and cardiovascular issues, and also increase a person’s likelihood they will develop drugs and alcohol problems.
How to get more sleep when working night shift
Thankfully a lot of research has been done in this area, and there are ways to improve your sleep when working at night.
Regis College in the US has released a guide for shift workers with some of the latest thinking on how best to manage night shift.
The guide points to the work of Professor Charmane Eastman, Biological Rhythms Research Lab, Rush University Medical Centre, and the US National Sleep Foundation. Both recommend ways to improve the quality of sleep when you’re working night shift.
First of all, let friends and family know when you’re going to be on night shift so they know not to contact you during the hours you’re trying to sleep.
- While at work, try to replicate daylight with bright lights. You might consider purchasing a light therapy box, which mimics outdoor natural light and can help reset your circadian rhythms, helping you stay awake when normally your body would be telling you to sleep.
- Manage your caffeine intake. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to six hours, so refrain from drinking coffee at least six hours before you’re planning on going to bed.
- Talk to your colleagues who also work night shift about what works for them. You may pick up some good tips from them.
- When you head home after work, try to avoid bright lights. You can purchase sunglasses that reduce blue light which can help you to sleep.
- Don’t drink alcohol before going to bed. Some people believe alcohol helps them sleep, but actually, though alcohol might help you fall asleep, it’s more likely to mean your sleep is disrupted.
- Go to bed as soon as you get home so you are avoiding exposing yourself to too much sunlight.
- Make your room as dark as possible with blockout curtains.
- Make your room as quiet as possible. You might consider wearing earplugs. You can also try using a white-noise generator (there are apps on your phone) which can block out outside noise.
- Keep your bedroom cool, which is the preferable temperature for sleeping.
- Remove screen distractions. Try reading before going to bed, rather than being on your screen. The blue light of screens can interfere with your circadian rhythms, and of course there’s the endless temptation to check the latest messages, news, and social media. Removing devices from your bedroom removes the temptation to check in when you’re supposed to be sleeping.
- When you wake up, try to spend at least 15 minutes in the sun to trick your body into thinking it’s morning.
Working night shift is not easy; it can impact on every aspect of life. But with a little thought and the right preparation, you will be able to successfully make the transition to night worker.