An increasingly interconnected world demands 24/7 service. More and more people are subject to night-shift work to keep up with the rest of the globe. Call centre agents, factory workers, salespersons, paramedics – the list goes on. It almost seems as if working night-shift is the norm now – but it certainly isn’t for your body and sleeping patterns.
Our circadian rhythms or internal body clocks are responsible for our sleep-wake cycles. For many people, this means being awake in the morning and asleep at night. Ever since the agrarian society – where people had to be up early to be as productive as possible while the sun still shines – came about, people have been predisposed to the traditional rhythm. This is primarily because of melatonin production being heavily influenced by light exposure. While night owls do exist, a great number of people have difficulty reversing their sleeping patterns every so often to match their workplace schedule.
Sleep deprivation amongst workers can affect mood, memory, focus, health, and overall work safety. Being unable to reboot the body for a couple of nights poses risk to one’s health. In fact, studies show that chances of obesity, type II diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, and sleep disorders become heightened with shift workers.
We know from our previous article that sleep schedules should be kept regular and routine to achieve a good quality of snooze. This is because the body likes working on a schedule, so it knows when to release hormones that trigger certain bodily functions – like when to sleep and eat. Once the routine is tampered upon, the body will not know when to send signals anymore.
Speed of Shift Rotations
It pays to be aware of what kind of shift rotation you’re assigned to, so you can take measures to work around it. The table below shows two of the most common shift rotations, their pros and cons, and how to cope with them.
Fast-Changing Shift Rotations
What is it? A night-shift rotation that changes every 2-3 days. It means an employee is working 2-3 shifts in a row.
Pros: It doesn’t shake up the circadian rhythm that much because the body won’t adopt a certain sleeping pattern. There are some free evenings per week.
Cons: There is a possible disadvantage to performance/productivity.
Most helpful sleep advice: Take a 20-30-minute nap before and during your night shift. Refrain from eating heavy meals at night. (This could make you feel sleepy while working, and cause indigestion when you sleep). Get out in the sun before and after your night shift.
Slow-Changing Shift Rotations
What is it? A night-shift rotation that changes after every x number of weeks. It means an employee is working 4 or more shifts in a row.
Pros: Body may start to adapt to the new sleeping pattern due to slow pacing. Sleeping and eating patterns become more predictable. It could give employees an opportunity to plan for their social lives.
Cons: There are no free evenings available. Sleep deficit increases as you do the same night shift each day. There is a disruption to the circadian rhythm. It ends up cancelling all the effort to sustain a regular sleeping schedule by changing it after a few weeks.
Most helpful sleep advice: Take a nap before your shift but avoid napping during. Avoid exposure to the sun after your night shift. Sleep as soon as you get home.
General Advice to Help Night-Shift Workers Sleep Better
- Limit your exposure to lighting. Do this by turning off the lights or closing the curtains. If you’re using light-coloured and/or thin curtains, cover your windows with black garbage bags or anything that can significantly reduce sunlight penetration in the room. On the way home, try to avoid sunlight by wearing sunglasses if necessary.
- Try to sleep cool. Sleeping hot makes the environment less conducive for snooze.
- Steer clear of noise. Look into soundproofing or even getting earplugs.
- Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages and eating heavy meals before sleeping.
- Try to avoid long commutes. This will reduce the time you could have spent sleeping.
- Ask friends and family to limit phone messages and calls or put your mobile on silent/Do-Not-Disturb mode.
Healthy Body = Healthy Mind
Get in sync with your body and take the necessary actions to keep yourself healthy. Not everyone will adapt the same, so find what works best for you. Stick to the advice listed here, take some vitamins, and even stay active. Remember – it’s much harder to work when you’re sick.