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Doctors, nurses, construction workers, and customer service personnel are all just a few examples of professions that don’t fit a typical nine-to-five workday. These offices tend to operate 24 hours a day with employees working through the night and sleeping during the day, a shift called the “graveyard” shift.
The graveyard schedule can be demanding on the body, mainly because it is not conducive with how our bodies get rest and recover. Insomnia becomes a usual complaint among graveyard shift workers, but there are ways to help everyone make sure they get adequate rest, no matter what time they fall asleep. Here are four areas of focus for workers to help find rest.
Understand the rhythms
Our sleep cycle is driven by two mechanisms in the body: homeostatic and circadian rhythm. The homeostatic rhythm tells your body when you’ve been awake too long and need rest. This is known as the sleep-wake drive. Because of this drive, the body knows when it needs to wind down and recover.
Natural light drives the circadian rhythm. There is a chemical reaction that happens when the body sees light. Body temperature and blood pressure are coupled reactions that help the body wind down in the dark and awake during sunlight.
“Jet lag is an example of circadian disruption because it disturbs the natural light cycle,” said Wayne Woodward, sleep medicine educator at the Intermountain Healthcare Utah Valley Hospital Sleep Center. “Our bodies are not designed to be awake at night,” Woodward said. “People working at night now have two systems working against them.”
Limit the light
When the nightshift is over and dawn starts to break, it’s important to continue to avoid the light. “When you are going home in the morning, limit your exposure to light as much you can,” Woodward said.
Natural light will trigger a reaction in the circadian rhythm, making it much harder to fall asleep when you finally can. Tips include wearing dark glasses, drawing the blinds when your home, and transforming the bedroom into a dark and quiet environment.
Take nap breaks
The 20-minute power nap isn’t a myth. So if you find yourself not able to function, take a break, and find a quiet place for a few minutes. Naps help satisfy your sleep needs, reinvigorate you, and help you think more clearly. Of course, that is a temporary fix, as your body still needs adequate sleep.
Pay your sleep debt back
Every hour of missed sleep adds up. Woodward explained that there is such a concept of sleep debt. For example, if you only get six hours of sleep each day for a two-week span, you have accumulated 14 hours of sleep debt, since you should be sleeping eight hours a night. Beyond the health reasons of lack of rest, your concentration experiences a major effect. “If we were to run someone that has 17 to 18 hours of sleep debt through a battery of cognitive and coordination tests, they would score exactly the same as someone who has a .05 blood alcohol level,” Woodward said.
Sleep debt can be paid back to help your body by getting that missing rest. Sleeping a little extra on the weekends to add back those precious missed hours helps. But to totally repay a heavy sleep debt, it takes much more than sleeping in on the weekends. For more information on finding more ways to sleep, visit intermountainlivewell.org.