Working night shifts is not one’s idea of the perfect schedule. After all, it forces you to miss out on social engagements and means you need to punch in when everyone else is punching out. But more importantly, it messes up your circadian rhythm, which is a biological process that drives your sleep-wake cycle. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), around 15 million Americans work night shifts. Out of these, 5-10 percent have symptoms that are diagnosed as circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders. They may fall asleep later or earlier than usual, they may have excessive daytime sleepiness and may have insomnia. Working night shifts also puts them at risk for health issues that range from depression and metabolic problems to more dangerous diseases like cancers and heart disease.
Sleep disorders like shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) are quite common among night shift workers and lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Although not every shift worker suffers from it, about 10 percent do. The consequences are serious and include impaired social functioning, health complaints, work-related errors, and dependency on drugs and alcohol. With so much at stake, it’s important that night shift workers try to get as much quality sleep as possible.
Your bedroom has a big impact on how well you sleep. Since you’re sleeping during the day, you should create an environment that mimics nighttime. Use blackout curtains to block outside light and wear a sleep mask. You should also wear earplugs if noise disturbs you or listen to white noise if you don’t like wearing them. Comfort is important when trying to sleep so use pillows that cradle your head and neck and keep them aligned with your spine.
Since shift workers come home to sleep when family members are busy with the day, it’s important to ask them to keep the noise down. Activities like vacuuming, listening to loud music, etc. can be very distracting when trying to sleep. You can ask them to schedule chores like vacuuming for later in the day and ask them to wear headphones when listening to music.
Your body needs to follow a regular sleep schedule. This means you need to avoid rotating shifts that have you working the day shift one week and the night shift another week. Your circadian rhythm needs to adjust to a routine, and it won’t be able to if your shifts keep changing. In addition, you should try to take days off in between your night shifts to allow your body to recover.
When you get to work, turn on the lights to create bright illumination. This will simulate daytime and will train your body to recognize it as such. It will help you be more alert the same way artificial light keeps you up at night. It will also help you avoid work-related errors that arise from feeling drowsy owing to dim lights.
Your body temperature lowers as night draws near in preparation for sleep. Unfortunately, sleeping in the day means your temperature is higher and it can make nodding off a challenge. What you can do is lower the thermostat to between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also use a cooling mattress to keep your temperature in check.
Nuvanna is a mattress designed for such a purpose. Its three-layered construction aims to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. The top layer uses phase-changing gel particles that regulate your core body temperature by dispersing heat instead of absorbing it. The middle layer absorbs motion so that you and your partner don’t wake each other with your movements. The bottom layer supports various body parts. It keeps your spine aligned and prevents back pain.
It’s hard to keep away from phones and laptops especially after a hard night’s work. You want to catch up with friends and family and that’s only natural. But, the blue light emitted from screens can keep you up by limiting the secretion of melatonin, a sleep hormone. Other types of artificial light can too but blue light is more powerful. What you can do is avoid taking your phone, tablet or laptop to bed. Don’t keep them near you either in case you’re tempted to check them. Dim the lights of your bedroom as well to encourage your body to sleep.
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Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, which means they keep you alert. Caffeine isn’t only found in coffee so remember to be mindful of what you eat. You should try to avoid foods like soft drinks, black tea, and chocolate. Certain ice creams also contain caffeine so make it a habit to read product labels to see which do.
Following a routine before going to bed can help you relax and transition to sleep. It could be anything that relaxes you like a warm shower, meditating, listening to calming music, or reading a lighthearted book. Avoid watching TV or playing games as they can stimulate rather than relax you.
Many of us often don’t have a choice when it comes to choosing our work shifts. Therefore, it’s important to do all we can to make sure we get better sleep. You can take a quick nap right before heading to work and exercise when you wake up. Just because you’re working the night shift doesn’t mean you have to lose out on sleep. These tips will help you get the most of it.