30 July 2018

Newcross nights: How to survive your night shift

night shift

More than 3.5 million people are employed as shift workers in the UK, but working after dark can be challenging, even for the night owls among us. Night shifts cause you to battle against your natural rhythms by trying to be alert when your body is programmed to be asleep.

Typically, alertness is most compromised during nighttime hours, generally between 0100 and 0700. Therefore, those working during these hours are susceptible to inattention and falling asleep on the job, which can have serious consequences. There are, however, steps you can take to make your night shift more manageable...

Limit your caffeine intake

Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant. By the time it reaches your brain, the most noticeable effect is a change in alertness. You'll feel more lively and less tired. Don't drink coffee towards the end of your shift if you want to catch a decent amount of ZZZs. Caffeine can seriously limit the amount of good quality sleep you can enjoy. 

Stick to a regular sleep/wake pattern

If you're working night shifts you will need to stick to a fairly strict routine to avoid feeling permanently jet-lagged.  The average adult requires 7.5 to nine hours of sleep in a 24-hour cycle to function properly, so make sure you've got your timings right and you allow yourself wind-down time after work. 

Avoid light exposure before bed 

Exposure to light cues chemical events to be triggered by the circadian pacemaker that affects your sleep and wake cycles. Melatonin - a hormone secreted by the pineal gland which inhibits melanin formation - is released as it gets dark in the evening to make you feel drowsy, while melatonin is suppressed and cortisol elevated by the morning light to make you feel more awake.

A few ways that you can control your exposure to light include:

  • Increasing bright light exposure during your shift with regular overhead lights or a bright desk lamp or lightbox
  • Wearing sunglasses on your journey home
  • Using blackout blinds, curtains, or drapes or a sleep mask to block out daylight 
  • Not watching TV before you go to bed
  • Switching off digital devices situated in your bedroom


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Article Sources:

'The Effects of Caffeine on Simulated Night-Shift Work and Subsequent Daytime Sleep' A study by  Mark J. Muehlbach and James K. Walsh Sleep Medicine and Research Center. St. Luke's Hospital. Chesterfield. Missouri. The U.S.A.

Medical News Today