How well do you…. Think? React? Work? Learn? Interact? All of these things hinge on the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Sleep is vital to good health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep protects your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and job competency. It even affects your immune system’s ability to work properly. How well you feel while you’re awake greatly depends on the quality and quantity of your sleep. During sleep, your body works to support healthy brain function and maintain our physical health.
The benefits of sleep are:
- Improved memory skills
- Reduced inflammation
- Enhanced creativity
- Better problem-solving skills
- Hormonal regulation
- Sharper attention
- Reduced stress
After reviewing that list of benefits, who could possibly afford not to max out their sleep time? Good sleep is critical for optimal functioning. On the other hand, the damage from sleep deficiency can occur suddenly (like a crash from falling asleep at the wheel) or slowly accrue over time (like type 2 diabetes). Many of the chronic and serious health problems linked to night shift work may actually be explained by the sleep deprivation many night shift workers report, rather than the actual nocturnal hours they keep.
Some shift workers report that their brain feels like is working hard both day and night which is, frankly speaking, exhausting. Living both in day and night can be overwhelming at times. It’s important to learn how to shut off your brain when it’s time for restful sleep.
Good sleep must be the main priority in your life if you are going to survive – and thrive – on the night shift. Your sleep time must be vigorously protected. This means letting others know that you are not available during your sleep hours. Put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door, put your phone on silent, and arrange for others to look after deliveries, pick up the kids, or look after carpool. Just as you would not reasonably expect a friend or family member to be available to you at 2 AM, you cannot be available to others at 2 PM. This your precious sleep time and you must value it. Good sleep is critical to keeping your job and your good health.
Have a sleep room
Your sleep room may or may not be your bedroom. Whatever room you use will need to be dark, quiet, and dedicated to sleep. Why call it a sleep room and not just call it a bedroom? Because you need to have one mission for this room: sleep! It cannot also be your home office, or your kids’ jungle gym, or your spouse’s wardrobe planning area. It must be set aside exclusively for your sleep during your night shifts.
Stick to a schedule as much as possible to keep a steady sleep routine. Sticking to a set sleep schedule establishes a routine to make sleep during the day easier. Try different patterns of work and sleep to see which is best for you.
As soon as you get your schedule, look ahead over your next set of shifts and mentally plan how you can maximize your sleep time.
If you have an erratic work schedule, you might consider anchoring your sleep. This means making sure you log the same four hours of sleep every day. For example, make sure you’re in bed from 1 to 5 p.m. every day, then add as many hours as you can before/after that period of time. But your body can count on the fact that you will always be in bed during those hours. This sleeping pattern adds some sort of regularity to an otherwise chaotic schedule.
Make it dark
Use blackout blinds or heavy curtains to block out as much sunlight as possible. A dark room is essential for a good day’s sleep. Blackout blinds can work wonders for instantly darkening a room. If you find light creeping in around the edges, add blackout curtains as well. It’s worth investing in true blackout material- it has a thick, opaque layer of fabric on the back side that cuts out all light. (Bonus: blackout blinds are energy efficient and can help with heating and cooling costs!)
Leave the electronics off as their interruptions can prevent deep sleep. Make time for quiet relaxation before bed. You can try muscle relaxation, breathing techniques or mental imagery. And if you cannot sleep, don’t stress. Read a book or listen to quiet music.
Use a fan, vaporizer or sound machine to muffle outside noises. Protect your sleeping space from household noises by closing your bedroom door. Turn off all of your devices off or put them on silent. Consider adding a “do not ring the doorbell” sign for your front door. Try using a white noise machine to drown out outside noises that you can’t control.
Use tranquillizing scents to trigger relaxation and help you fall asleep faster. There are many studies proving the sleep-inducing, calming effects of lavender oil. Inhaling lavender has shown to reduce sleep disturbance, improve quality and duration of sleep, fight insomnia and improve overall well-being. Plus, unlike most sedative drugs, lavender does not cause any unwanted side effects. (This goes without saying… but avoid using candles to avoid any fire risks! An essential oil diffuser will do nicely.)
Keep it cool
A separate window air conditioner is a good idea to keep your sleep room a little bit cooler than the rest of your place. Our circadian rhythm naturally cools our body during sleep and getting that slightly cooler temp is an important part of successful daytime sleeping. (Bonus: An a/c unit can provide white noise. But if the condenser loudly bangs on and off, then it might be best to opt for a fan instead.)