Working nights? You’re certainly not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift or regularly rotate in and out of night shifts.
If you’re working nights, you’ve probably heard warnings about how your alternative schedule could negatively affect your health and well-being.
But your schedule is your schedule and perhaps you can’t change it right now, or perhaps you don’t want to. With that in mind, let’s live in the nocturnal moment and talk about ways you can get better sleep and make the most of the work-life balance you’ve got.
1. Jump-start your night.
As night falls, get some exercise, expose yourself to bright light, and take a hot shower – each of these tricks can help you to feel alert and ready to take on the world.
2. Time your caffeine.
Drinking a cup of coffee at the beginning of your shift will help promote alertness. But don’t consume caffeine for the last 4 to 6 hours of your shift or it may be harder to get to sleep when you get home.
3. Block out and black out.
Just because the sun is coming up when you’re heading home to bed, doesn’t mean you have to take any notice. Wear dark, wrap-around sunglasses to block the morning rays that can wake you up. Keep those glasses on until you’re in the dark sanctity of your blackout-curtained bedroom. Blackout curtains are a must because, even if your eyes are closed, sunlight in your room rouses you. Add earplugs and an eye cover and your sleep is covered.
4. Avoid alcohol.
A glass of wine or beer may help you fall asleep, but you’ll likely pay for it later as alcohol disturbs the second half of your sleep. Go with grandma’s advice and sip warm milk instead.
5. Step away from that device.
Smartphones, tablets, and computers (as well as energy efficient light bulbs) all emit blue light that boosts wakefulness – not great when you’re hoping to catch some z’s. If possible, avoid using devices for one hour before you’d like to fall asleep. Charting until the last moment? Try blue-light-blocking or “sleep” glasses. Yes, you’ll look a little funny during hand-off, but isn’t sleep worth it?
6. Try melatonin (but not so much)!
Whoa, that melatonin in your medicine cabinet is 5mg per dose. Research in the journal Work shows you only need about 0.3mg to fall asleep faster. So grab a pill cutter, trim those tablets, sleep better, and save yourself money to boot. Older shift workers may particularly benefit from taking melatonin as the body’s natural melatonin production lessens with age. Quick review: the pineal gland in your brain produces melatonin in response to darkness – it’s a biological marker of night and makes sleep inviting.
7. Create rituals.
Tell your body it’s time to sleep with calming, soothing habits. Read a book, listen to soft music, or gently stretch. Write down things that are worrying you and tell yourself you are setting them aside while you rest.
8. Use your nose.
There is evidence that certain smells can improve sleep. Lavender, for instance, can decrease heart rate and blood pressure, potentially putting you in a more tranquil state. Vanilla, valerian, and jasmine are other possibly soporific options. If you enjoy scents, try soaps, lotions, or oils to find what works for you.
There you have it: 8 tips for the Holy Grail of sleep – those blissful 8 hours. Hope to see you in dreamland.
Big thank you to the National Sleep Foundation, the American Psychological Association, and the peer-reviewed journals Work and Sleep Medicine Clinics for the useful resources that informed this blog.