Restful sleep. Deep sleep. Peaceful, rejuvenating sleep. Sleeping like a baby. These are all ways to describe a good night’s rest. But what if you are one of the million Americans who work at night and sleep during the day? Approximately 20% of us work shift work, which is defined as working outside the normal “9 to 5” work day. This includes hospital staff, emergency responders, firefighters, and police officers, to list a few of the more common and necessary jobs that require 24-hour coverage.
People who work the night shift and sleep during the day are at risk for many health issues, such as an increased risk for heart disease or diabetes. Sleep deprivation can lead to sleep disorders such as shift work disorder and circadian rhythm sleep disorder.
Circadian rhythm helps set our internal biological clock, or body clock, by adapting to a normal sleep schedule. It is responsible for regulating the release of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps to make us sleepy and keeps us asleep throughout the night. The circadian rhythm is influenced by light and temperature – among other things – and is something that needs to be “set” in our internal system. This is why babies usually don’t sleep through the night until a few months old, when they have hopefully started to adapt to a pattern of sleep.
So the question is, can people who must work the night shift reset their body clock to sleep during the day? In reality, shift workers must find ways to cope, and maybe in small ways, they can retrain their circadian rhythm.
Here are 4 suggestions to help your brain adjust to night shift:
- Reduce your exposure to daylight as much as possible during sleep. Exposure to daylight tells your brain it’s time to be awake. You can trick your brain into thinking it’s nighttime by using black-out curtains or an eye mask.
- Go to bed as soon as you get home. This can minimize activities that might stimulate the brain. It also minimizes your exposure to daylight.
- Develop a bedtime routine. Go to bed at the same time, take a shower, brush your teeth, listen to calming, soothing music, and keep the room on the cooler side. You can also do some relaxing stretches to wind down. Your brain will learn these cues, and know it’s time for sleep.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. These are all stimulants. Instead, opt for warm herbal teas before bed.
Many articles and studies have shown that if you are committed to make sleeping a priority, these small changes will have a positive effect on the amount and quality of sleep you can get during the day. Sleep is vital to your overall health and wellbeing, not to mention your ability to concentrate and focus on your job.
The professionals at Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine are highly trained to evaluate and treat sleep disorders that can result from shift work. Our doctors, Dennis Kellar, MD and Madhu Gundavaram, MD can offer years of experience and knowledge in sleep medicine.
Call 8154777350 today for a consultation with one of our compassionate sleep medicine doctors in Crystal Lake or South Barrington, or request an appointment online.