Sleep. We take it for granted, ignore it, and some even resent it, but its importance can’t be overstated, so learn how to get it.
The Night Shift
Those who earn a living working the night shift (or even the way-early shift) are severely disadvantaged in maintaining optimal health. Those who work and socialize during daytime hours may find fitting in school plays and friends challenging, but not as much so as for those working irregular hours. More importantly, this group is automatically at greater risk for a number of severe health issues, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, endocrine disorders, metabolic syndrome, and cancer.
To accommodate their jobs, these folks must develop an artificial sleep pattern that is opposed to our body's natural circadian rhythm. As a result, there is a dramatic reduction in the naturally occurring hormone melatonin. Non-refreshing sleep follows, which prevents our bodies from repairing and restoring at adequate levels, leading to further complications, like insulin resistance and diabetes.
Cortisol (a hormone that regulates stress), during a normal circadian rhythm, spikes first thing in the morning in what is known as a Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR). The level of cortisol gradually decreases during the day and through the evening when melatonin secretion should take over. However, thanks to those reversed sleep times, the effect of CAR is diminished considerably, and cortisol release throughout the day becomes irregular, leading to an imbalance in blood glucose. The repetitive strain on the body's biological processes night in and night out makes it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for night shift workers to truly adapt to their artificial sleep-wake cycles.
When secretions of leptin and ghrelin (hormones responsible for regulating our appetite and hunger, respectively) fall out of balance, it leads to an overconsumption of roughly 350 to 500 extra calories per 24 hour period. There's also the fact that nocturnal digestion is proven to be much less efficient than daytime digestion. Both of these issues lead to increased body fat.
Light and Life
Light exposure, especially blue light from fluorescent bulbs and electronics, tricks our brains into thinking it's daytime outside, requiring us to be alert—the complete opposite of what a person coming off a late shift needs.
Yet those whose lives permit them to sleep a normal sleep-wake cycle generally take it for granted, with total disregard for sleep hygiene. We burn the candle at both ends, sacrificing both sleep quantity and quality. As a result, we suffer many of the same health issues as those who are unable to take advantage of a natural sleep-wake cycle. Like children, we fight bedtime, ignoring our body's clear signals that it needs rest. And for what? A Daredevil marathon on Netflix? Rest assured, it will be there tomorrow, giving you something to look forward to, not regret.
5 Tips to Hack the Night Shift
For those tired of not being as productive as you know you can be, check out this post for tips to get you started on a better night's sleep. But keeping focus on our friends on the graveyard shift, here are some tips to get them through the night:
1. Wear Blue-Blocker Glasses to avoid stimulating blue light from electronics and overhead light bulbs.
2. Install the f.lux app on your computer and reverse the settings so your computer screen dims during the day and becomes brighter overnight.
3. Buy a sunlight lamp that mimics natural light, and use it when you first wake. There are even models that sync with your alarm clock (which is the only form of electronics acceptable near your bed).
4. For everyone low on sleep, it's okay to temporarily modify your workout routine. Instead of highly-stimulating exercises like Olympic lifting and gymnastics, or High-Intensity-Interval-Training (HIIT), choose easier, less neuro-focused movements and protocols.
5. Consume well-balanced meals, especially prior to the start of your shift. Heavy carbohydrate meals may cause your blood sugar to crash and zap your energy.