Shift work

blog post-night shiftThe big challenge that we face today, is that in our fast- paced world, millions of people are chronically sleep deprived and suffering delirious effects of getting low quality sleep.

Immune system failure,diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression and memory loss are just a few to be named.

Unknown to a lot of people, continual sleep problems are a catalyst for diseases and appearance issues.  A study in The Canadian Medical Journal showed that sleep deprivation is directly related to an inability to lose weight.

Could high quality sleep be the missing component to nutrition and smart exercise, to help you shed fat for good?

Shift Work

Our biological clock (circadian rhythm) is an extremely hard and robust mechanism.  The biological clock depends on your brain, a certain part of your brain called the hypothalamus, part of the hypothalamus is called the ‘suprachiasmatic nucleus’, or SCN for short.

When it comes to circadian rhythms, the SCN would be like the main control panel, it regulate’s your sleep and body temperature. People who have an irregular sleep pattern due to work commitments, such as care workers, factory worker’s, medical staff, can struggle to adjust sleep/wake cycles.  Shift work tends to throw your body out of whack, body temperature continue to raise while you sleep in the day and continues to peak, whereas, when you sleep, your body temperature is meant to decrease.  Technically your body temperature should peak while your awake and working in the night and decreases when you sleep.

Curt P. Richter was a biologist, psychologist and geneticist at John Hopkins University.  He identified the hypothalamus as a ‘biological pacemaker’ involved in sleep and wakefulness. He reported that the biological clock is insensitive to most forms of interference.  Artificial light however, can effect your circadian rhythm. Whilst working a night shift though, the artificial lighting in buildings are only moderately effective- in the range of 150-180 lux. If your place of work is too dark, maybe speak with your employer about increasing the brightness of your lighting, or possibly investing in light boxes. If your employer refuses to purchase this asset, why not purchase one for yourself? There are a range of light or (SAD) boxes you can purchase via Amazon, with a wide price range. Aim for (2500 lux vs normal lighting of 150 lux).  This will mimic the sunlight and intensity, remember that bright light boosts alertness.

In general, night shift workers have more accidents than day shift workers.

How can you optimise your schedule for night shift?

  •  If possible, start tapering your sleep/wake cycles a few days before your shift starts, this way your change in sleep pattern won’t come as such a shock to the system.  So for example, go to bed 2 hours later and raise 2 hours later than your usual schedule.
  • Take a nap before your shift but be aware, if you nap longer than 30-40 minutes, your body will enter into deep sleep phase and you will wake feeling groggy. This will reduce your sleepiness when you are at work.

Weather your an early bird or a night owl, do try and get a nap in before you get ready for work. Night owl- although you may find it difficult to sleep in the afternoon, try and get at least 15-20 minutes nap before work.  Early bird- Try and get a long nap in before work, if possible, up to 3 hours.

How long can you stay alert while at work?

  • Expose yourself to bright light. If your work area is not bright or needs to be dim, your rest area’s should be well lit.  Again, maybe encourage your employers to invest in brighter lights or provide light boxes.
  • You can help to regulate your body, at least a few days in advance by eating meals/snacks, the same time each day. If you are working nights for several days, eat ‘lunch’ midway through your shift.
  • If your employer’s all this- take a 30-40 minute power nap- this will improve alertness and is more effective that coffee!
  • Consuming caffeinated drinks in the first half of your shift, can be a helpful stimulant but within a few hours of bedtime, could result in increasing the time you take to fall asleep, reduce deep sleep and fewer hours sleep.

How do you get home from work?

  • Are you driving?Taking public transport?Taxi?or carpooling? If you have to drive, try taking different routes home, so that you don’t hit auto pilot. You are at higher risk of having a car accident, if driving after a night shift.  If your really tired, take a short nap before leaving work.
  • To encourage the production of melatonin and prepare your body for sleep, wear dark glasses on the way home. Daylight is a signal to your body, to wake up, so if you want to mask the daylight, I recommend Bloxx sleep/anti blue light glasses. They are available at   They are also available to purchase on Amazon but are cheaper to buy directly from the website.

Protecting your sleep after a night shift

  • Keep your routine’s the same, weather you are on day or night shift. This will encourage pattern recognition and your body will know the cue’s for bedtime. So for example; brushing your teeth, taking a warm bath, doing a gentle yoga exercise or listening to soothing music.
  • Taking an alarm clock to bed may cause you to feel anxious and frequently look at the clock. If you can avoid having a clock or alarm clock in view, try to do so or put it in a draw or somewhere out of sight.
  • Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Put up blackout blinds or drapes, alternately a good, comfortable eye mask will suffice.
  • Keep your environment as quiet as possible. If you live in a noisy environment and you can afford it, you may want to consider sound proofing your bedroom. If wall insulation is not within your budget, here are a few other things you can do; put in double glazed windows, carpet in your bedroom, heavy, thick curtains. Earplugs may also help create some peace and quiet.
  • Make sure family members or house mates know your work and sleep schedule, keep it where it is visible to them. Hopefully you have considerate members of the household, who will keep noise levels low.

How can you recover between shifts?

Like I said earlier, bright light boosts alertness, so light boxes or SAD lamps are helpful in resetting your circadian rhythm. Aim for 2500 lux vs normal lighting of 150 lux.  These are available from Amazon, they vary in price ranging from £26-£100+, so are available no matter where you are financially.

(References:Jean-Philippe Chaput, PhD and Angelo Tremblay, PhD. (Adequate sleep to improve the treatment of obesity) The Canadian Medical Association Journal. www.cmaj-ca/content/early/2012/09/17.cmaj.120876. Sleep smarter by Shawn Stevenson)



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