Shift work sleeping disorders occur when your body is forced to adjust to different sleep patterns due to a shift in your work hours. Due to the fact the body is naturally created to shut down when it is dark outside and wake up when it is light, forcing it to adjust to a different schedule can be difficult, if not impossible for some people. It is a matter of adjusting your internal clock, which could take some trial and error as you figure out the best way to fix it. What works for some people, might not work for you, but you should not get discouraged, simply keep trying other tactics to ensure that you are able to stay healthy and alert.
Working the Night Shift
The most common type of sleep disorder associated with shift work occurs in people that work nights. Training your body to sleep during the daytime and be alert at night takes quite a bit of adjusting. You have to learn how to properly train your body, which means controlling your environment. The largest hazard with trying to rest during the day is the amount of light your body is exposed to; in order to minimize it, sleep with room darkening drapes, wear a mask over your eyes, and keep your doors closed. If there are any bright objects in your room, such as a clock or radio, cover them so that the light does not filter into the room. You should also cover your eyes with quality sunglasses when you drive home from your shift to avoid the light from keeping your mind alert.
Working Rotating Shifts
If you work rotating shifts, your body is constantly forced to adjust to a new sleep schedule. This can be hard on your body, but if you minimize its effects by planning ahead, you can enhance your body’s ability to sleep. If you have any say in when your schedule changes, try to make sure that you do not work one shift for longer than 3 days in a row, as any longer than this time period gives your body time to get used to the new pattern, which makes switching to a new schedule even more difficult. Once you have the schedule rotation perfected, you can start adjusting your body. In the days leading up to the change, adjust your bedtime accordingly. For example, if you will be switching from days to nights, start making your bedtime an hour or two later in the few days leading up to the change. This will prepare your body for the upcoming change.
Working Long Shifts
Working long shifts can also disrupt your sleep patterns. This is most common for doctors, people that keep our community safe (police officers and firefighters), and even tax professionals during tax season. When you arrive home completely exhausted, your body has a harder time shutting down, which can lead to a decreased amount of sleep. People that work 12-hour or longer shifts must work through the exhaustion and then fight their body to get to sleep when they are over exerted. The best way to fight these issues is to take good care of your body. Make sure to eat a very healthy diet, giving your body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy; make sure your environment is conducive to sleep when you are home and able to rest; and to limit the number of days you work in a row so that your body does not get into an unhealthy sleep pattern.
Shift work sleeping disorders are not impossible to overcome, but they do require you to make adjustments so that your body is able to properly rest and recover from a long, hard day at work. No matter which shift you work, it is important to take care of your body. Finding a way to get at least 6 to 8 hours of sleep per day/night; eating the right nutrients; avoiding caffeine; and exercising when you are alert enough to be safe are the best ways to ensure a healthy body and to minimize the risk of injury, accident, or illness in the long run.