HEALTH CARE: Don’t let shift work cause nightmares

Tired? Try this…

Here are several good sleeping habits you can use to help your circadian rhythm cope better with shift work:

· Get up at the same time every day.

· Go to bed only when sleepy.

· Establish a relaxing pre-sleep ritual, such as a warm bath, light bedtime snack, or 10 minutes of reading.

· Exercise regularly, at least six hours before bedtime.

· Maintain a regular schedule, including eating, medications, chores, etc.

· Avoid caffeine within four to six hours of going to bed, because this can worsen snoring, apnea. When alcohol is metabolized, it can cause “insomnia” or fragmented light sleep.

· Avoid smoking within two to four hours of going to bed. Better yet, quit smoking for a longer, healthier life.

· If you find napping helpful on a regular basis, try to nap at the same time every day. Mid-afternoon is best for most people.

· Use sleeping pills conservatively and discuss this with your doctor. Never combine sleeping pills with alcohol.

Are you a night shift worker who has difficulty staying alert on the job? Do you have difficulty sleeping during the day?

Don’t feel alone. There are more than 23 million people in the United States who work a shift other than the day shift, and many of them have these same concerns.

Midnight shift workers and those who rotate shifts are generally the most affected by this sleep disturbance. There is evidence that shift work affects an individual’s performance, memory, intellectual capacity, motor coordination, and mood. Shift workers typically get one to two hours less sleep than a normal day worker.

There are multiple factors for insufficient sleep, both at home and at work. But it’s difficult to function when fighting off chronic sleep deprivation.

Treatment strategies

Fortunately, there are some people who are “night people,” and they adjust to the night shift better than “morning people.” Older workers on the whole, find it increasingly difficult to work nights and rotate shifts.

For a permanent night shift worker, it’s ideal to keep the same sleep/wake time seven days a week. Trying to work four to five midnights, then trying to be a “normal” sleeper does not always work. Sleep schedules at home are a must, and it’s a good idea to turn off your phone’s ringer during your sleep time. Sleep in a quiet, dark environment, sleep as much as you can, and then, if necessary, take a 30 to 40 minute nap before you go to work.

One of the issues with insufficient sleep is sleep inertia. This is the body’s tendency to want to remain sleeping or in bed for 15 minutes to an hour after awaking. The effects of sleep inertia on the employee’s responsibilities must be considered, especially if there’s a need to wake up quickly and react immediately to a job situation; for instance, personnel who are on call.

Prescription drugs, if taken properly, can work for transit insomnia until people acclimate to their shift. I would recommend talking with your doctor about this. However, long term use of these medications should be avoided. Also avoid over-the-counter “P.M.” sleeping medication, because these usually contain Benadryl, which has a long half life and can leave you with a “drug hangover” when you wake up.

Careful use of stimulants, such as caffeinated beverages, chocolate and raisins, are helpful for alertness, but try to avoid caffeine, including chocolate, within six hours of going to bed. Otherwise, you could have an unrefreshing sleep.

For further information or recommendations for dealing with shift work, contact the Munson Sleep Disorders Center at 1-800-4-MUNSON.

Dr. David A. Walker, DO, is Medical Director of the Munson Sleep Disorders Programs. BIZNEWS