The sun has set; many people are winding down for the evening. Meanwhile, approximately 2 million other people are heading into work. Roughly around 20% of the United States workforce work night shift or some type of shift work.
First responders, hospital and nursing homes workers, military personal and truck drivers are a few to name that work the graveyard shift. In addition to an opposite sleep schedule, these employees often aren’t working a normal 8 hours, they are pulling a 12-hour shift or longer. Their schedules are flipped completely around. During the day they have to sleep while the sun shines bright, and loud sounds from cars and people carries nose through their walls. As the rest of the world sleeps, they have to fight against their natural circadian rhythm to stay awake.
The circadian rhythm also known as “body clock” is a 24 hour biological clock that informs our bodies when to sleep. Sunlight helps manage the clock to know the difference between day and night. Our brains also produce a natural hormone called Melatonin. Melatonin is made by the pineal gland in the brain and maintains the circadian rhythm. The pineal gland is turned on after the sun goes down and starts producing Melatonin. When Melatonin is released into the blood stream we begin to start feeling less alert. This process usually starts around 9pm producing high levels of melatonin until the sun starts to rise in the early morning.
Fighting against your natural sleep cycle to stay awake can become extremely dangerous, especially for someone who has to make life or death situations and split-second decisions. Ultimately working these types of hours can lead to restlessness, sleeping on the job and fatigue. Even if you sleep for a full 8 hours before starting a shift, it won’t help entirely.
Quite frankly the solutions are limited from dodging sleeping problems. Switching to day shift would be the best situation, however that is easier said than done. In reality someone will always be working “third shift” or “graveyard”. One possibility is taking stimulates such as coffee or a caffeine pill to help stay wake. As for helping you sleep try using a sleep aid. Stick with the same bedtime everyday and try going straight to bed as soon as you get home from work.