Care doesn’t stop at night-time. It can be challenging being a night worker and it can have damaging effects on family life and physical and mental health, but someone’s got to do it. According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) the number of people regularly working night shifts is at its highest level since current official records began in 2005.
It found that about 100,000 more people are regularly working overnight than five years ago. It found that 173,000 more over-50s were working overnight than in 2014. (BBC News, 2019)
Manage sleep patterns
The human body is designed to sleep at night time. Trying to work against this, for some, is no problem. For others it can cause sleep deprivation and fatigue. The body is controlled by an internal clock, or circadian pacemaker, which is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus.
Circadian rhythms run in 24-hour cycles and are significantly influenced by the natural light and dark cycles. Many of the processes in your body that are active in the daytime slow down at night to prepare you for sleep. At night, the circadian pacemaker releases the sleep hormone melatonin from the pineal gland, which causes you to feel less alert and raises your desire to sleep. (Nichols, 2017)
Night working works against your bodies natural desire to sleep during the dark and wake up with the light. Try going to bed straight away and set your alarm to allow you a block of 7-9 hours which is the recommend sleep time. Make sure the people close to you understand your working patterns so they don’t disturb you during your sleeping phases.
Stay away from the light!
Melatonin is released at night when it gets dark to make you feel drowsy. Cortisol is elevated by the morning light to make you feel awake. Trick your body by exposing yourself to light in the night time and suppressing your exposure to light after your shift when it is light. Try wearing sunglasses after your shift has finished, use blackout blinds in your room and refrain from watching tv before bed.
Fuel your body.
Your metabolism is likely to be effected when you throw off your bodies daily rhythm. Plan your meals to help you stay more alert at work and make you relaxed when you sleep. Stick to healthy foods in smaller portions as big meals can lead to feeling full and drowsy. Don’t load up on sugar because a sugar high will lead you to crash! Drink plenty of water during the day to help your mental performance but stop drinking plenty of time before bed so you don’t wake with a full bladder in the night.
Make napping an essential part of your working day.
A nap can make a lot of difference to your performance. Try to nap for 20-45 minutes. Avoid going into a deep sleep as this will cause sleep inertia and make you feel more tired when you wake up.
Maximise the effects of caffeine.
We all know of someone who starts their day with a strong cup of coffee hoping it will give them the kick they need to wake up. However, research suggests taking a different approach to maximize the effects of caffeine for shift workers. Workers that consumed smaller — equivalent to quarters of cups of coffee — and more frequent doses of caffeine throughout their day experienced enhance wakefulness, performed better on cognitive tests, and had fewer accidental naps than those who had had no caffeine. (Nichols, 2017)
Ensure you stop having caffeine at least 6 hours before bed so it doesn’t effect your sleep patterns.
Everyone differs so these tips may or may not work for you but if you are one of the heroes working on a night shift who is struggling, try some of the tips above and see if it makes a difference.
BBC News. (2019). More over-50s working nights, union says. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-50189819 [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].
Nichols, H. (2017). Five ways to deal with night shifts. [online] Medical News Today. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319918.php#3 [Accessed 6 Nov. 2019].