Coping With Night-Shift Work
NIGHT-SHIFT workers have been found to experience more gastric problems, ulcers, alcoholism, and divorce than do their peers who work days. But research done by Fred Jung, a registered nurse and assistant instructor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing, indicates that alteration of sleep patterns may alleviate some of those problems.
Mr. Jung did a sleep study on a group of night-shift employees at an assembly plant. In his sample group, which included both men and women with a mix of production skills, he concluded that shift work itself causes a type of stress.
People in the study suffered symptoms similar to jet lag that seemed to intensify when sleep habits switched back to night sleep during days off. Therefore, Jung concluded, sleep patterns assumed during the workweek are best continued throughout the week, since it takes several days for the body’s biologic rhythms to adjust to a new sleep pattern.
Mr. Jung’s research suggests that sleeping at least a four-hour period on days off during the time customarily used for sleep during the workweek seems to help sustain biologic rhythms. He calls that anchor sleep. Diet, social patterns, and exposure to light were also found to influence shift workers’ adjustment.
Using the information from his research, Mr. Jung has formulated several guidelines for night-shift workers:
✔ Try to sleep during the same time period each day, preferably during the late morning and early afternoon.
✔ Plan your activities around your sleep period.
✔ Do not worry if you cannot always sleep during the preferred time; even a little regular day sleep will be better than none at all.
✔ Eliminate disturbing noises (use earplugs or get a telephone answering device) and sleep in a dark room.
✔ Eat a large, high-protein meal at the beginning of your day. Protein provides a sustained release of energy-producing glucose and will stimulate your adrenal glands to keep you alert. Then eat a moderate-size meal containing protein in the middle of the day and avoid carbohydrate snacks. They may give you a temporary lift but will make you tired an hour or two later. Save the carbohydrates for your last meal of the day. These substances prepare you for restful sleep. However, do not eat immediately before bedtime; you need a couple of hours to digest your food.
✔ Do not drink alcohol as a way of getting sleep. Alcohol deprives you of the type of sleep you need for psychological health and well-being.
✔ When you wake up, put on the lights; or if it is light outside, go out into the daylight, exercise, move around, and talk to people. The activity and light will stimulate your brain and help resynchronize your body to your night-work schedule.
✔ Be good to yourself. Do not compound the stress by living in an unhealthy manner. Including regular exercise, proper diet, and sufficient restful sleep in your daily routine will help you perform, feel, and even look better.
These are the opinions of one researcher. Others may come up with different solutions to the problem.