Getting Enough Sleep on the Night Shift
Night Shift is rough on the body. A person's circadian rhythm gets all out of whack, as our systems were created and evolved to work by daylight and hibernate in the dark. All this came in a time before electricity; before we were able to light up the night. Our bodies haven't yet adapted to the possibilities of our 24/7 world, with bright florescent lighting and a global economy we can work and talk with at 2am.
Which is not to say there haven't always been night shift workers. Emergency personnel don't stop because the sun goes down, thankfully. Cops, doctors, firefighters, paramedics... they all work overnight to keep us safe and healthy. Other overnight jobs include manufacturing and processing, trucking, and even retail. We've all stopped at an all-night gas station a time or two in our lives, right?
So how do night shift workers get enough sleep? And what is "enough" sleep?
It takes a bit of practice to get into a night shift groove. A few weeks of overwhelming exhaustion, not unlike that of a new parent. Eventually, a new normal emerges.
Most night shift workers will not go back to the usual 7-9 hours of sleep recommended by experts. It becomes more about the quality than the quantity.
Start with your environment. You need silence. Let friends and family know you need to sleep during the day. Turn your phone off if that's possible. Wear earplugs to block out the daytime hum of trash pickup, lawn care, and whatever else goes on in a neighborhood. If you share a house with anyone, discuss this need with them, so you aren't hearing the vacuum at 10am after only getting into bed at 7:30.
You also need darkness. You need to trick your body into believing it's nighttime, so that it produces the melatonin you require for sleep. Blackout curtains are a (day)dream come true. The thicker and darker, the better. A quality sleep mask, made of breathable natural fibers, is also a great idea.
Then comes comfort. You are trying to get your body to create quality sleep in a shorter period than it is used to, so comfort is key. Keep the room cool. Nobody likes to sweat when they sleep, as it leads to tossing and turning. Natural fiber sheets and blankets help in this area, too. A high quality pillow that will keep you comfortable throughout your shortened sleep period is essential.
Persevere. After those few weeks of adapting, it will feel more natural to bed down after a night shift. The quality of your day sleep will improve, and you will now have the ability to nap and sleep under circumstances where sleep eludes most people. Consider that flexibility a skill!