Our bodies are naturally wired to be awake during the day and sleep for approximately eight hours a night. Working night shifts runs counter to the body’s sleep-wake cycle and can seriously affect your health- not to mention your social life.
The sleep-cycle is controlled by a part of the brain known as the circadian clock. It monitors the amount of light you see, moment by moment. When the light starts to wane in the evening, your clock notices and floods the brain with melatonin, which gives the body the signal to fall asleep.
During the day, other chemicals known as neurotransmitters (such as noradrenaline and acetylcholine) increases in the body and keep you awake. Many other functions of the body, including temperature, digestion, heart rate and blood pressure also fluctuate during the day in tune with the circadian clock. As a result many shift workers get on average 2-3 hours less sleep than other workers, often due to having split sleep patterns instead of a continuous block of sleep.
While short periods of sleep between shifts works well for some people, it is not an easy schedule to keep particularly if you have other demands such as children.
So what can you do to promote better sleep during the day?
Tip #1 Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine before bedtime
If you are working nights and need to sleep from morning until afternoon. Try avoiding caffeine after midnight.
Tip #2 Create a restful environment
Turn off or unplug your phone and hang room-darkening shades on the windows. Try wearing an eye mask and post a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your bedroom door and even your front door as well. Schedule appointments and other activities outside your sleep period, and train your family and friends to leave you alone while you sleep.
Tip #3 stick to the routine
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps promote good sleep. Be as consistent as possible, even on weekends and days off.
Tip #4 Make healthy lifestyle choices
Eat a healthy diet and include physical activity in your daily routine. If exercise seems to energise you, work out after you wake up rather than before you go to sleep. Resist the temptation to use junk food or nicotine to stay awake or alcohol to get to sleep.