By Dominic Joseph Roca, MD PhD
Despite what popular culture tells us, no, not everyone works 9-5. In fact, many of our nation’s most dedicated employees work overnight shifts. So just how can one adjust to and maintain a sleep schedule that’s healthy for this lifestyle?
First, the facts Nightshift work is often associated with:
1. Excessive sleepiness
2. Difficulty concentrating
3. Mood disorders
4. Increased errors at work
5. Motor vehicle accidents
6. Increased incident of upper respiratory tract infections
7. Increased risk of obesity
8. A possible increased risk of cancer
It’s important to understand that the unfortunate effects of shift work cannot be eliminated altogether. They can, however, be reduced. Here’s how you can lessen the effects:
1. After your shift, avoid bright light. Consider wearing sunglasses on the way home if it’s safe to do so.
2. Take a nap just before coming to work. Even a brief 20 minutes will help
3. Take another nap during breaks, if you can. 10 minutes can still be very helpful.
4. Consider taking .5 mg of melatonin one hour before your shift ends. Try a test dose before using it at work—this dose should not cause immediate sleepiness.
5. Keep up with activities like healthy eating and exercise. Avoid alcohol and other recreational drugs.
6. Small doses of caffeine in the beginning of your shift can be helpful, but if used less than 6 hours before you go to sleep, this can cause insomnia.
If you tried these suggestions and still find it extremely difficult to sleep or function at work, you may want to talk to your doctor about using medications 2-3 days a week. Medications can be safe if used under the guidance of a primary care physician familiar with shift work disorder or a sleep specialist.
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