Shift work can disrupt your sleep patterns. These tips might help

Humans have evolved to sleep at night and be active during the day

Shift work can disrupt many aspects of your life.

A 2020 study of 86 nurses who worked eight-hour, rapidly rotating shifts found they were more likely to sleep poorly, which affected their work performance. Another 2020 study, this time of 424 workers, suggested a link between shift work and poor sleep quality.

Other studies show overnight shifts increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and a higher body fat percentage than non shift workers. For those who need to be on their game no matter what their schedule, Healthline reached out to experts to see what advice they might have.

Mental prep

“When you’re a shift worker, and you’re not ready to sleep, it can get more frustrating,” said Colin Espie, PhD, the co-founder and chief scientist at Big Health and professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford.

According to Espie, humans have evolved to sleep at night and be active during the day, and that can put a mental barrier between shift workers and sleep.

Espie told Healthline that clearing your head by journaling or writing out a to-do list before bedtime can help. “Then, when things come into your mind, you can say, ‘I’ve already thought about it,’” Espie said.

Though not about shift workers specifically, a 2018 study indicated that writing a to-do list for 5 minutes before bed helped more than journaling.

Go dark

“The main thing that controls the body clock is exposure to dark and light cycles,” Espie said. “Light wakes you up, particularly bright light outside.”

The brain equates light with the time to be awake, so darkness is important. Espie suggested investing in blackout curtains to block outside light from your bedroom.

He also suggested wearing sunglasses on your drive home from work, to minimize exposure to sunlight.

Keep a routine

A person can establish a new normal through routine. “The schedules we have and cues we give ourselves get us into new habits,” Espie said.

Establishing a routine was how EMT Danielle Bujnak got her sleep and overall well-being back on track.

“If you do it in the same order every night, your brain sees it as one big activity … that ends with going to sleep,” Bujnak told Healthline.

She pointed out it’s the order you do things, not how long you do them, that matters.

Espie added it’s important to keep the workday routine even on your days off. Changing your bedtime can worsen “social jet lag,” which is caused by irregular sleep patterns.

Limit caffeine

That Starbucks run might be crucial on the way to work, but caffeine intake should be limited throughout the day.

Nicole Avena, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University, suggested cutting yourself off at least four to six hours before bedtime.

She also suggested consuming no more than 400 mg of caffeine a day. That equates to four cups of coffee or two energy drinks.

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