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Sleeping (and Living) Better With Shift Work

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Question:

Hello, I work alternating shifts. One week of 0600-1400 and the next week 1400-2200 then repeat. I have an XXXX activity tracker and it clearly shows that I sleep well on the late shifts but clock no more than 4 hours on the early shift. I am so out of sync and beyond tired having to wake up at 5am to get to work for 6am. I nap when I get home as I'm dead on my feet but then naturally cannot get to sleep easily later on.

Is there anything I can do to help myself get a better quality of sleep on the earlier shift?

Many thanks and kind regards,

(my breeze came today and I Love it already- at least I can mentally switch off now even if I cannot get to sleep)

Answer:

Stick to a schedule, no naps.

Our brains can pretty seamlessly adjust by about 15-30 minutes per day to a shift in schedule. So when you are talking about 8 hour shift differences, it can take weeks to adjust. Even with the best case scenario, it takes your body/brain a full week to adjust. But then you're just back to the other schedule anyway.

The best thing to do is probably to minimize the sleep schedule differences between the two schedules. That means getting to bed as soon as you get home from the later shift – by 11pm. Then wake up by 6-7am every morning. That would be 7-8 hours of sleep, which should be enough.

That way, switching to the earlier schedule should not be as bad. You'd sleep from 11pm to 5am during the switch, which is 6 hours. Most people can still function with 6 hours, though may be a bit tired. That day is the day you are allowed to drink more caffeine. Do not nap. That will mess you up for the week. Try to power through that first day, and you'll thank yourself.

Go to bed at 8-9pm. That will give you 8-9 hours of sleep. The next night, you can go to bed by 9pm to wake up at 5am. Then stick to that schedule for the rest of the week. Most adults have far less trouble staying up to 11pm for the next shift change. It's when we have to move up our schedules that it's really difficult.

No naps!

It sounds like the naps are what really mess you up during the shift change. (It may not be true for all people, but in your case, that seems to be the main problem.) So do what you need to do to stay up and not take a nap that first day. If that means drinking an extra cup of coffee, then do that.

Even a 20 minute nap at 2-3pm is enough to mess up your sleep at night.

If it's really too painful, if you have a lunch break at 10am when you can take a 20 minute nap, you may consider that on the first day as you adjust to an earlier schedule. But then you'll be fighting the urge to nap at 10am for a few days. Naps longer than 30 minutes may be difficult to awaken from, so I suggest 15-20 minute naps if you really must take one.

Going to sleep earlier

When you are trying to go to sleep at an earlier time than you are used to, SleepPhones® can be very helpful. They help you relax in bed, and with the right music, can help you fall asleep.

On this page of free MP3 music, http://www.sleepphones.com/mp3/free-mp3-downloads, you can download Ocean Waves (Newport Waves). That has background sounds called binaural beats that can help to guide your brain waves to deep sleep.

We also have a free SleepPhones® iPhone® app with 4 tracks that can help you sleep better. There are other apps out there too, if you want to experiment a bit.

If you can set a song as your alarm clock on your phone, you can try the Breakfast Sizzle (also on the same downloads page above). The binaural beats in that song will help to wake you up, gently.

Other tips

1. When you are trying to go to sleep earlier, but are having difficulty, turn down the bright white/blue lights and stop computer/phone/tablet/TV use an hour before bedtime. That will allow your brain to naturally produce melatonin, helping you sleep.

2. When you wake up, but are having difficulty staying awake, turn on as many lights and open as many window shades/curtains as possible. That will help train your brain to recognize that it's day time and suppress melatonin production.

3. Take note of any potential stimulants such as caffeine and depressants such as alcohol and how they might affect your sleep. Use them sparingly.

4. Here are some additional tips commonly known as the Sleep Hygiene Rules. http://www.sleepphones.com/hygiene

Summary

The number one thing that influences how well you sleep/wake up is simply your body's natural rhythm. So adjusting that as little as possible will help you feel better.
The second most important thing that influences your sleep/wake schedule is light.

If you can control these two things, then you are on your way.

Here is a link to our catalog. http://www.sleepphones.com/store/sleepphones-store
Here is a link to our free music again. http://www.sleepphones.com/mp3/free-mp3-downloads

Disclaimer: Written by Wei-Shin Lai, MD. This should not substitute for medical advice from your doctor. Please call your doctor if you have questions about sleep with shift work.