The idea of working nights is not a new one. It goes far back in history, as far back as the gatekeepers of ancient kingdoms that guarded the grounds at night. Their job was protecting their master from any threat. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the concept of night shift changed. The invention of the light bulb allowed workers to work longer by illuminating the dark. Manufacturers in metal and textile mills jumped at the chance for increased production and higher profits. They introduced the concept of shift work. This meant they could split crews into groups and work around the clock. This allowed the production of more goods without the added pay of extra crew.
The concept of shift work continued to grow into every industry. Today it is still relevant. Many companies and workers enjoy the benefit of shift work. They get time off during the day, typical weekends, or flexibility for other responsibilities.
Working the night shift can be a big change for you, your family, and your health. It’s important to take care of yourself during this unusual schedule. Taking care of yourself helps make sure you don’t suffer from sleep disorders. Sleep disorders are no joke and can cause workers to become ill and absent from work or cause accidents while at work.
For your long-term health and well-being, it’s important for you to understand, adjust and adapt to working the night shift.
Below are some tips that can help you adjust to working the night shift:
- First and foremost, make sure you drink lots of water. Dehydration will make sleep deprivation much worse, so remember to stay hydrated.
- Eat appropriately. Make sure you eat something before you go to sleep. Watch what you eat, snack throughout your shift instead of eating large meals (which can make you sleepier). On night shift dinner can be anytime from 7pm to 9pm. You can either eat before going to the office or take the dinner to the office. Avoid eating late dinners as this will make you feel drowsy while working. If you are not able to eat dinner before leaving for work, then at least have a good nutritious snack.
- Be aware of your caffeine intake. Most people will rely on caffeine (energy drinks or coffee) to keep them alert, but it’s important to know that with any caffeine drink you will experience a crash. Also, if you drink your caffeine too late into your shift it will affect your ability to sleep when you get home.
- Our bodies are controlled by an internal daily body clock, situated in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus. The SCN spontaneously generates the circadian rhythms that regulate many physiological and behavioral processes in our bodies, such as temperature control, hormone production, alertness, and sleep. These circadian rhythms run over a period of approximately 24 hours and are strongly influenced by the natural cycles of light and dark. At night, many of the processes that are active during the day start to slow down as our bodies prepare for sleep. The circadian pacemaker also stimulates night-time release of the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin from the 5-pineal gland, which has the effect of lowering alertness and increasing the desire for sleep. So, set a sleeping goal. Make sure you’re keeping track of when you fall asleep and wake up. You ideally want 8 hours of sleep every time to stay fresh, alert, and functional. Get plenty of sleep when you can! Use white noise to drown out the noise of the day
- Keep your workspace bright and your sleep space dark. Sure, it may not always be possible but do your best to keep your bedroom very dark by blocking windows with curtains, keeping electronics off, and closing the door if possible. Try keeping your workstation bright to stay alert and focused while on the job. The circadian rhythm is what the body uses to keep track of a 24-hour cycle. It is susceptible to light, temperature, and certain medications. So, do you best to keep that cycle intact.
- Try to keep a schedule. Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule as much as you can. If possible try not to work doubles or rotating shifts. Your body can adjust to a night shift schedule much easier if it is a regularly occurring cycle. By disrupting the schedule with working various shifts or taking days on and off, you never adjust to a normal schedule, and your body doesn’t know what to expect.
- Be wary of bright light on the way home. The sunlight will keep you up longer, so if you are planning on going home and straight to bed, keep that in mind! The longer you stay out in the sun, the harder it will be to go to sleep.
- While you’re at it, don’t forget to keep up your exercise. In some ways, this is even easier than if you worked in the daytime, as there is no one around to fight you in fitness centers and gyms by the time you’re ready to go. Exercise is one of the keys to restful sleep and its obvious why regular exercise is good for your health. Since you’ll be at a disadvantage on both fronts, regular activity is even more important for you.
- Finally, watch your mental and emotional health. At first, it might seem like fun to IM or text your friends at night, but over time that feeling of missing out can make you feel alienated. Combine that with bad food, poor sleep, and a lack of light, and you have a recipe for depression or other mental health issues. Make sure you take your vacations, switch up your schedule a little from time to time so you can socially engage with others (keeping in mind, that it’s important to keep the switch consistent too), and get plenty of sunlight when it’s right for you, usually before work. If you have colleagues who also work your shift, talk to them and spend time with them, so you don’t feel alienated and alone. Get support from your family and friends. One of the hardest parts of working the night shift is feeling isolated from your friends and family. You may not be able to join in the late-night parties or the midday lunches anymore, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never get to see them again. Ask for their support and let them know of your new schedule. Ask them not to reach out to you and wake you up when they know you’ll be asleep. And let them know when you are available and they will understand. You’ll still be able to have a social life; it will just need a bit of flexibility!