How Working the Night Shift Affects Your Sleep

From insomnia to depression, get a better understanding of how the night shift affects your physical and mental health, and what you can do to fix it.

Tuesday, Jan 21st, 2020

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Did you know that nearly 15 million Americans work the night shift? If you’re one of these people, it’s important to be aware of the effects of working night shifts on your health, such as disrupted circadian rhythm or Shift Work Sleep Disorder. While there are negative effects of shift work, there are also steps you can take to decrease the effects and take strides towards better health.

The Negative Health Effects of Working the Night Shift

If you work a night shift, it may seem like working at night and sleeping during the day is a simple switch to make. However, the effects of working night shift on the body can make a significant impact on your physical and mental health. Shift Work Disorder, a type of circadian rhythm disorder, affects roughly 10% of night shift workers.

Some symptoms of Shift Work Disorder include insomnia, excessive sleepiness when you need to be awake and alert, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and depression. Often, night shift workers hold jobs that require a high level of concentration, such as doctors or nurses, which is why Shift Work Disorder can be especially dangerous.

Shift Work Disorder can eventually lead to more long-term health concerns, like obesity, heart disease, ulcers, and more frequent infections like the cold or the flu.

Night Shift Impacts on Productivity

Those who are affected by Shift Work Sleep Disorder may experience a major decrease in work productivity, which can affect your ability to do your job successfully. There are two main reasons why this happens. First, you’re going against your natural circadian rhythm, which means your body wants to sleep at night but you’re forcing it to stay awake. Secondly, because you’re less likely to sleep the full amount, your body accumulates a large “sleep debt” which will make you feel more tired over time.

This lack of sleep and fight to keep your brain and body awake makes you less likely to perform tasks at the rate and quality you would if you were fully rested or working during the day. It can also reduce concentration and ability to stay on task and studies have shown that more errors are made during the night shift.

The Effects of Working Night Shift on Relationships

The night shift can also affect your relationships with people. A big cause of this is a lack of interaction with your friends and family. You may feel disconnected from those close to you, which can be hard on your mental health.

Additionally, because Shift Work Sleep Disorder can cause depression and crankiness, this will cause more negative interactions with those around you or no interactions at all. Negative interactions or a lack of interaction will make it harder to improve your mood, happiness, and will likely decrease your productivity at work.

Tips for Shift Workers

If you are a shift worker, there are some actions you can take to try and improve your sleep or sleep quality.

Before your night shift, taper your sleep a couple of days beforehand. This can make it easier for your body to adjust to fewer hours of sleep. Try to make the big change in small increments, a shift of 20-30 minutes per night is optimal. You can also nap before your shift, but try to stick to a 30-40 minute nap because your body will enter into a deep sleep after that amount of time. Once you enter deep sleep, it’s harder for your body to wake up.

At work, you should seek out bright light and work in areas that are well-lit to help keep you awake.

A light snack or meal can help keep your energy up, in addition to some caffeine. But wary of consuming caffeine too close to when you want to sleep—drinking coffee or tea a couple of hours before bedtime can make it harder for you to fall asleep.

If you can’t sleep after working the night shift, you should follow the same routine as when you normally sleep. This can help the body recognize that it’s time to wind down. Some things you can do to help are brush your teeth, read a book, take a warm bath or shower, and perform some meditation exercises. Make sure your bedroom is cool and dark—if you’re sleeping during the day, black out curtains or an eye mask can help achieve this darkness.

By taking some of these steps, you can help reduce the negative effects of circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

Shift Work Sleep Disorder Treatment

If you experience many of the Shift Work Sleep Disorder symptoms, such as insomnia, excessive sleepiness, lack of energy, and difficulty concentrating, it’s important to start taking action. At a very basic level, focus on improving your sleep hygiene. Establish a routine, avoid screens before bed, and keep your room cool, dark, and quiet.

If these steps aren’t working for you, there are some medical Shift Work Sleep Disorder treatment options. To combat sleepiness at work, talk to your doctor about prescription medications to help you stay awake and alert during your shift. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, your doctor can also prescribe some sleep aids.

Can Lighting Help Night Shift Workers?

One last option to consider for trying to regulate your sleep cycle when working the night shift is circadian rhythm lighting, or lighting that works with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Studies have found that short-wavelength (blue) light can help increase concentration and alertness at night. Brilli’s bulbs from the Charge Up Collection contain high amounts of these wavelengths to improve energy and focus and mimic natural daylight.

Another option for circadian rhythm lighting is to use bulbs that reduce blue light upon your arrival home after the night shift. Brilli’s Wind Down bulbs simulate evening light, which can help your body prepare for sleep and relax naturally. With these healthy lighting options, you can help your body stay awake and fall asleep.