Having worked 12 hour shifts as a night shift worker for over 4 years, I can attest to the fact that it is very hard to be superhuman while working the night shift. If you aren’t getting any sleep, and aren’t eating well, you can’t be superhuman. In this series of 3 articles, I’ll help you overcome the challenges of being a night shift worker. Keep reading to learn how a night shift worker can start to become superhuman by improving his or her sleep habits.
SETTING YOUR BODY CLOCK
Since the birth of man, humans have woken up at sunrise and gone to bed after sunset. When working the night shift, one goes to bed as the sun rises. The goal of shift workers should be to mimic a natural Circadian Rhythm (“CR”) as much as possible. The natural CR is a 24 hour “body clock” that responds to light and darkness.
The best way to mimic the natural CR is to expose yourself to bright light when you wake up and limit your exposure before bed. One of the best ways to expose yourself to bright light when you wake up is simply going outside! As an example, when I wake up at 2:00 pm, I go directly outside and get at least 10 minutes of sun exposure. Modern technology can also help us with light exposure. A sunrise alarm clock or a light therapy device, although fairly expensive, can provide bright exposure when you wake up, helping to set your CR without the need to go outside (very useful in winter months and for those living in extreme latitudes).
Limiting your exposure to bright light before bed can be more challenging than exposing yourself to bright light when you wake up. However, several tools are available to help overcome this challenge. If you work on a computer, the (free) flux app, mimics the sun by dimming your computer screen as you near the end of your shift. Low blue light bulbs, blue light screen blockers, blue light blocking sunglasses, and gunnar glasses all help block the blue light hitting your eyes and telling your body it is daytime.
PREPARING YOUR SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
Preparing for sleep is fairly similar for day shift and night shift workers. Regardless of the hours you work, give yourself a few minutes to unwind after work, before going to bed. If you come home from work and jump straight into bed, your mind won’t have time to calm down and prepare for sleep. In addition, ensure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. If you’re a night shift worker, you should use black out shades and/or wear an eye mask to create a dark sleep environment. A white noise app, fan, or other device can help block out daytime noises.
ADJUSTING TO ROTATING SHIFTS
If your job requires you to switch from day shift to night shift, transition slowly, if possible. Quick transitions are very hard on the body. You may need approximately 7 days to fully transition your sleep cycle.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Nobody can be superhuman without quality sleep. Night shift workers face special sleep challenges. After reading this article, you know to overcome those challenges. In the next article, I’ll tell you about The Night Shift Worker’s Guide to Superhuman Eating. In the third article, I will tell you how getting quality sleep and making good food choices will improve your exercise so you can be a night shift worker and be superhuman.
If you have any questions or concerns about shift work, or you want to share your night shift success stories, please feel free to leave your comments below.
References/ Further reading:
Dark goggles and bright light improve circadian rhythm adaptation to night-shift work: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7809567
Shiftwork supplements and other tools: http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2013/02/229-how-to-legally-boost-hematocrit-limit-the-damage-from-night-shift-work-the-dangers-of-vasectomies/