If you are to perform well on the job, you need to get enough quality sleep. This is especially true when you are working the night shift. Our bodies circadian rhythms tend to fight off sleep during the daytime, causing sleep deprivation in many night-shift workers. Sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive impairment, a decreased quality of life, mood changes, and even health problems.
If you are working the night shift, you need to take steps to make sure that you are able to get enough uninterrupted sleep. It can be tempting to take a nap and then get up to do other activities and then catch another nap later on in the day, but if you do this, you will interrupt your sleep cycles, and cut down on the amount of REM sleep that you experience, which is essential for that well-rested feeling.
Just as daytime workers have a bedtime routine that might include things such as brushing one’s teeth, drinking a cup of tea and reading a book, night-shift workers must have a routine as well. This routine will send a signal to your body that it is time to shift out of work mode and into sleep mode. You will want to keep a regular sleep schedule. As difficult as it may seem, in order to get enough sleep, you need to keep this same routine in place on your days off.
It will be tempting to use the daytime hours during days off to do errands, volunteer at your child’s school, or meet with friends, but you should resist this urge, or you risk disrupting your sleep schedule for several days. It is a fact that night shift workers generally sleep about an hour and a half less per night than daytime workers. This sleep deficit can add up and cause health and attention problems, so try to embrace your schedule and find ways to work the other aspects of your life around it.
Set up your environment where you will not be disturbed. If you have small children, you need to find daycare, just as you would if you were working during the day. Other family members should be asked to make minimal noise. Post a notice outside your door requesting that the doorbell not be rung during the hours that you will be asleep. Also post a No Soliciting sign. Unplug your phone, and if it is in your room, turn down the volume on the answering machine so that you cannot hear it.
Invest in a white-noise machine. Air filters work well for this purpose and have the added benefit of screening out allergens in the air. There are also machines that reproduce the sounds of waves, quiet rain, and other soft sounds that help filter out background noise for many. Also, buy blackout curtains, or find another way to completely blackout the windows in your room.
If you are used to turning on a soft lamp every evening and reading yourself to sleep, you should be able to turn off the lamp after you finish reading and experience the same level of darkness that you do at night. Make sure that no light is coming through any cracks around the curtains or blinds that you put up. Less expensive options are to double up a dark, thick comforter and hang it in the window, or to paint a piece of cardboard white and fit it exactly in the window. You may want to use two kinds of window treatments. For example, blackout shade and thick dark curtains work very well.
Make sure that the room is a comfortable, nighttime temperature. Your body instinctively knows that temperatures drop in the nighttime, so your room temperature should reflect that. Another way to produce relaxing nighttime conditions is to purchase a small pillow made with lavender. Lavender is a natural relaxant and has been proven to help people sleep.
As soon as you get off work, if there is any sunlight, you should put on a pair of dark sunglasses to make the commute home. You do not want your brain to get the idea that it is morning, and time to wake up. Do not eat a heavy meal before the end of your shift or when you get home. You should also cut out all caffeine and other stimulants, such as sugar, at least four hours before you plan to go to sleep. When you arrive home, immediately put on your pajamas and begin your bedtime routine.
If you have children who are going to school at this time, if possible, make arrangements with your spouse to handle this part of the morning. Making breakfast and bustling everyone out the door to go to school is not a good way to wind down at the end of a long night shift. Try not to get into any stimulating conversations with family members. Let them know that when you get home, you would like a kiss goodnight!
Your body may take a few days to adjust to a night shift. Don’t become discouraged, if you stick to your routine and implement these strategies, you should be getting eight hours of quality sleep in no time at all.Your body may take