How to Thrive on the Night Shift
Traveling is an adventure. You have the opportunity to see new places, meet new people, and enjoy diverse culinary eats native to your new temporary home. But if you aren’t getting the right sleep, you won’t get to enjoy exploring all that your new location has to offer.
Here are tips to help you thrive on your night shift schedule.
Quality Sleep is Key to Working the Night Shift
Getting quality sleep every day is foundational to feeling good and being productive. There are several tricks you can use to increase the potential you’ll awaken every day ready to work and have fun. Sleep deprivation affects your cognitive skills, emotions, mental health, and increases your accident potential. Try these strategies to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep while on assignment.
The hormone melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the brain and helps regulate your sleep-wake cycles. Since sleeping during the day and being awake at night is not a natural cycle, you’ll want to help your body adjust the melatonin production to improve your sleep quality.
Melatonin production is affected by light and dark, as well as the clock. When you first wake up, use a light designed for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), to help shut off your melatonin production and get ready for your “day.” The sunlight spectrum helps to do that when you wake up in the mornings. Blue light in the SAD device is the wavelength responsible for shutting off melatonin.
Using this strategy, it is also essential to not use your smartphone within three hours of wanting to sleep as it uses blue light. While driving home, it would be helpful to wear blue-blocking sunglasses to avoid shutting off your melatonin production.
Once home, sleep in a darkened room and a sleep mask. Even the little bit of light from an alarm clock through your eyelids is enough to slow melatonin production and affect the quality of your sleep.
Consider using earplugs and a white noise machine to reduce the amount of noise you hear while sleeping during the day.
Plan to Include Exercise at the Right Time
A healthy exercise program will boost your mood and improve your sleep quality. Although you may be walking throughout much of your shift, this is movement and not exercise. No matter your age, both movement and exercise are important to your overall good health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Choose to exercise at least four hours from the time you plan to sleep. Most people who work the night shift choose to get home and head to bed, so they are up for the evening hours. Exercise right before bed can increase the time it takes to fall asleep and reduces your sleep quality.
Practice Healthy Eating Habits
While working the night shift, it’s easy to get into habits of eating all night, grabbing “breakfast” before bed, and then another meal before work. Your body does not need food immediately before sleep as it is not burned but stored as fat. Instead, eat a meal before work and another during the night shift, but at least four hours before you sleep, just as you might if you were to eat dinner at 6 pm and sleep at 10 pm.
Choose nutritious foods that feed your body and steer clear of processed, junk food that adds empty calories without providing you with the energy you need to work all night.
What About a Schedule on Your Days Off?
Although it is tempting to switch your sleep/wake cycles to a more traditional schedule on the days you don’t work. Your body will function optimally when you stick to a routine. You don’t have to stay up till 7 am and sleep until 4 pm on your days off but can shift the hours a little. For instance, stay up until 5 am and sleep until 1 pm on your days off is enough of a shift to enjoy daytime hours with friends and family without shifting your sleep hours so much that you get sick.
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