While the rest of us sleep, late-shift workers are among the people who keep things going for us well into the dawning hours. And without a doubt, your circadian rhythm is probably out of whack. You were undoubtedly aware of how your sleep schedule would be considerably upended when you took the job and, most likely, you have adapted quite well.
Still, you’re getting your sleep while the rest of us are up and about during the day, and that sometimes might affect the quality of sleep you’re getting. In fact, it might lead to shift work sleep disorder (SWSD), which The Cleveland Clinic states can result in issues with falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping when you want (or need) to. SWSD can result in work-related stress, accidents or poor judgment, health issues and, unfortunately, alcohol and drug dependency.
Restful sleep is, without a doubt, a preventive cure for many of our ailments. It can help you reduce work-related stress, and, combined with self-care (which includes exercise diet, getting good sleep, and taking time out for yourself), can even help if you’re suffering from depression or an addiction.
Even if you might suffer from SWSD, a restful day’s sleep can still be easy to come by if you consider these tips:
1. Prepare Your Bedroom for Sleep You need to make your bedroom as dark and cool as possible. Why? A cooler environment can help the body fall asleep faster. Keeping a cool bedroom isn’t as difficult to do during the autumn and winter months, since all you need to do is lower your thermostat.
During spring and summer, you might want to use a window unit or portable air conditioner in the bedroom so you don’t overuse your central air system. Also, use room-darkening blinds and curtains to make sure little light seeps through the windows.
2. Get a New Mattress If back pain is keeping you up at night, it may be time for a new mattress. When selecting a new mattress, you have to take the location of your pain into account.
If your pain is in your lower back, then you’ll need a medium to firm mattress no matter what type of sleeper you are. But if you’re feeling pain in your upper back or shoulders, a slightly softer mattress will be best.
3. Cut the Caffeine It might not be a good idea to celebrate the end of your shift with a triple-espresso chocolate latte with whipped cream and cinnamon shavings - or even a can of your favorite soft drink.
That jolt of caffeine might be the thing to keep you awake, or even delay your sleep. Generally, you should avoid caffeinated beverages about six hours before you go to bed. This rule of thumb is also useful for those who don’t work the night shift.
4. Shut Off the Devices Once you finish your shift and arrive back home, normally the first thing you want to do is check your emails, visit social media, maybe even play a video game to relieve some of the stress you feel.
However, these devices emit what’s called blue light, which suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that affects sleeping. While your circadian rhythm is already different because you’re working overnight, you don’t need anything else interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Turn off your laptop, TV, and tablet device. You should also recharge your phone in another room. If you are on call, however, you might want to have your ringer set loud enough that you can hear it. But if you need to have it closer, try not to have it so close to your bed.
5. Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule On the weekends or any days you're off work, as tempting as it may be to join the rest of society on a regular daytime schedule, try to keep a consistent sleep/wake cycle.
Consistency is key to developing a circadian rhythm, and ultimately improving the quality of your sleep. You gave up a traditional 9-to-5 life because of your dedication to working while everybody else is sleeping, but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your own sleep.
Keep yourself healthy and rested by making your bedroom dark and cool, avoiding caffeine, keeping a regular sleep schedule and switching off your devices when it’s bedtime for yourself.
Fact-checked and edited by: Scarlett Full, in-house Registered Dietitian