Shift work sleep disorder is a condition that anyone who works night or rotating shifts is at risk for experiencing. This can include doctors, nurses, emergency services providers and many other professionals. It’s estimated that up to 20% of people in the workforce do shift work.
Shift work sleep disorder is a condition where people suffer from insomnia paired with excessive sleepiness. It’s the result of problems with the circadian rhythm, and there are health risks associated with this condition.
Studies have shown that shift workers have higher rates of heart disease and digestive disorders, as an example.
So what can you do to combat sleep problems when you work night or varying shifts?
Invest In High-Quality Blackout Blinds
If you do nothing else, getting good blackout blinds should be something you shouldn’t ignore. It can be difficult to trick our bodies into thinking it’s time to fall asleep when it’s light outside, so blackout blinds can convince you it’s nighttime even when it isn’t.
Your circadian rhythm is heavily influenced by light, which is why this is so important.
Also in line with this tip is the fact that you should expose yourself to bright light when you’re working a night shift so that your brain will think it’s time to be awake. Exposing yourself to bright light as your shift begins can help your body’s clock adjust itself.
Some people find success by using an alarm clock that mimics the sun rising as a way to adjust to unusual sleep patterns and work schedules.
Maintain A Healthy Diet
It’s not uncommon for shift workers to have an unhealthy diet out of convenience, but if you can eat regularly timed, healthy meals, it can help your internal clock.
If you’re eating at regular meal times throughout your “day”, then your body will be better equipped to know when it’s time to feel sleepy.
You should try to avoid having caffeine for at least six hours before you think you’ll be heading to bed, and your heaviest meal shouldn’t be any closer to your bedtime than two to three hours.
Anchor and Recovery Sleep
If at all possible, try to create a schedule that includes anchor and recovery sleep. Anchor sleep means that you try to get a minimum of four hours of sleep at the same time every day or night. Try to stick to this goal as closely as possible.
Recovery sleep is a time you can catch up on sleep and have longer periods of uninterrupted sleep on weekends or your days off.
You should also try to create bedtime rituals, which will help your mind and body know that it’s almost time to go to sleep, and do these rituals no matter what time of day or night you’re actually heading to bed.
Finally, melatonin can be helpful if you can’t fall asleep when you need to, but don’t overdo it. It’s estimated that only about 0.3mg of melatonin can help you fall asleep, so avoid trying to take too much because it could have the opposite effect.