How to adapt your life to a third shift work schedule

By Dr Pushpa Chandra

May 17

If you work third shift, or at night, you know it is hard on your body and your mind. Thousands of years of evolution - along with regular daylight and darkness periods - have developed the norm of sleeping at night and working in the day time. It is hard to go against that nature, and it takes a toll. There is even an illness called shift work sleep disorder, according to Web.MD, which involves excessive sleepiness during working hours at night and not being able to sleep when off work during the day. There is a natural cycle our bodies have related to sleeping, waking, digestion and many other functions.

People who work #nightshift have more illnesses and more accidents

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People who work at night have more illnesses and more accidents, and some of that is related to sleepiness. But, if you do work at night, you have to adjust to these conditions. Getting enough sleep, regardless of when it is, is crucial to good health, so adjusting your sleeping patterns is the most important thing you can do.

Schedule sleep

Regardless of when you work, or sleep, your body works best on a regular schedule. It is best sleep at the same time each day to get your body used to the routine. Keep to this schedule on weekends too, if possible. This is even more important working at night. There are a lot of distractions in the daytime that can make getting to sleep tough, so having that regular routine can help in that regard. As much as possible, stick to the idea of sleeping for a long period instead of several naps.

Picking a time

The important thing is to develop a regular sleeping pattern. If you get off work at 8 a.m., for example, you may want to go to sleep as soon as possible to have some time in the afternoon or early evening before you go to work. You could choose instead to sleep later and go to work right after waking up at night. This is a possibility too, but avoid the trap of getting caught up in running errands or being involved in stimulating activities just before you go to bed. Shift work means you also need a regular shift for when you sleep regardless of when that happens to be.

Avoid rotating shifts.

This is related to scheduling. If at all possible try to avoid rotating shifts while doing shift work. When you start to get used to sleeping at one time, and then changing that by changing shifts, your body has to start all over in adjusting to a sleeping routine. If you must do rotating shifts, some say it is easier to rotate forward, as in to day to evening to night, as opposed to the opposite direction. Adjusting your body to the night shift is hard enough, it is even harder when shift work means you have to keep changing that pattern.

If you must do rotating shifts, rotate forward. Adjusting your body to #nightshift is hard otherwise..

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Sleeping conditions

Use heavy curtains, or some way to block out the light. Make the room you sleep in as dark as possible. The sunlight tells your brain it is daytime, so your body will not fall into as deep of a sleep as it might, if your brain were to slow down. Medical people call it the 'Circadian rhythm' which is an internal clock that tells our bodies when it is time to be asleep or awake. You may not be able to control when you have to work, but you can adjust lighting to get your internal clock to adjust to the light.

Caffeine and diet

Just as you might avoid caffeine at night if you want to sleep at night, it is important to pay attention to your consumption in relation to when you want to sleep. If you want to sleep soon after work, avoid caffeine late in your shift, for example. Especially while making the adjustment to third shift work, you need to take advantage of any thing you can to help your body adjust. Keeping external stimulants out at certain times is just one way to aid in that effort.

If you want to sleep soon after #shiftwork, avoid caffeine late in your shift

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It is also important to pay attention to when you eat and what you eat. A heavy meal before going to bed at night is not recommended, so don't do it when you are about to go to bed during the day either.

Use light

While doing shift work you need to adjust your sleeping quarters to promote sleep. The reverse strategy also works when you need to be awake. If you are working at night, keep things as bright a you can. Keep your workplace well lit and expose yourself to light as much as possible. Circadian rhythms work in keeping you awake as well as helping you sleep. Being exposed to light upon waking promotes alertness.

‚ÄčPhoto courtesy xvire1969


About the Author

Dr. Pushpa Chandra is a Vancouver-based Naturopathic Physician. She worked for over 27 years as a registered nurse and 22 years at BC's Children's Hospital, working in critical care with the province's sickest children. Her interests include research in circadian rhythm disruption, sports medicine and pediatrics. A competitive sports enthusiast, she has completed ultramarathons and marathons in all 7 continents. As a shift worker she has been using the ingredients of AWAKE and ASLEEP to boost her performance, endurance and overall health.