How to Survive Shift Work

One Week to Better Sleep Common Questions and Novel Treatments
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Shift work is perhaps among the most challenging obstacles to overcome in terms of sleep hygiene, and longevity. I know I'm speaking from fact, as a former emergency medicine physician, I worked a ton of nights and the effects on my health were evidence and I want to share with you some coping strategies on how this applies to you if you're a shift worker or you know somebody who is you can utilize these techniques to help. So the reality is that one in five people in the United States are shift workers. And obviously these are the backbone of society our emergency medical system can function police hospitals, in a variety of service industries all thrive and rely on shift work. But the risks are real. shift workers have an overall lower quality of life increases in depression, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, obesity, cancer, and gi diseases.

So what to do, unfortunately, no quitting is obviously not an option for many people. For those stuck in the world of shift work and network, anchoring sleep is really the best current approach that we have at the present time in dealing with this issue. And it's our most powerful recommendations based on the American Academy of sleep medicine. And the goal is to increase both the quantity of sleep and also the consistency of sleep. And so by utilizing a technique called sleep anchoring, the overall premise is that several hours of sleep will overlap every night. For example, a shift worker might sleep consistently from 10am to, let's say, 1pm, whether or not they work or don't work that night, and it should be consistent every night, regardless of the schedule.

And it really helps to maintain consistency once schedules change, obviously, some employers are better at following a circadian friendly rhythm in terms of rotating shift work. Other people are working straight nights and are still trying to function in terms of having a family Life and friends in getting things done. And so sleep anchoring is really a powerful way to help mitigate some of the negative health effects of shift work. So how do you anchor? Well, basically, you're going to map out for the week or the month, however you want to do it seven a block and have those 24 hour timeframe, you're going to want to map out at least seven hours that are designated for sleep. And three or four of those hours need to overlap every day, the same time, there needs to be some overlap of the time designated to sleep in so it still allows the ability to function during daylight hours if you're a nighttime worker, but by consistently mapping out sleep, it really helps your body sort of regulate, recover and recharge and I'll share some other strategies here in just a minute.

But the key is that this is the same every day whether or not you are going to work or not working. You need to spend at least three or four hours sleeping at the same time. Every day just helps your body become familiar healthier, helps your mind prepare for the act of sleeping itself. Commonly, people will say, Well, I'm just not tired, I just can't fall asleep. I just lay there. And there are a few strategies to to deal with that.

The first is what's called the light break. This was, I believe, developed by the University of Chicago. And the idea is that on the last night of shift work, say for example, you're working a seven day on 70 off schedule. As you get to the seventh night of sleep or day of sleep, whatever time you're sleeping, just cut back a bit on the amount of time you sleep, it creates a little bit of sleep debt, and increases sleep drive the subsequent day when you're getting back into bed to try and anchor your sleep. Obviously, this is said with caution. You know, if you're a pilot, if you're operating heavy equipment, then obviously you need to be rested and function cognitively.

But it's just one little technique to help anchor that sleep on a consistent basis. The final recommendation is take Three milligrams of melatonin before daytime sleep. This is a recommendation not from me, but from the American Academy of sleep medicine. And so that, as you're well aware from previous modules in this course, that that can help with facilitating the onset of sleep, particularly if you're trying to sleep during daylight when you know, there's obviously ambient light. And we talk about a whole host of other strategies, blackout shades, noise barriers, and things like that. So I just want to also leave you with this that there are some barriers to overcome, obviously, the fear of missing out, unfortunately, see people that are trying to power through a night or a day without sleeping because they don't want to miss an event or a family function or sporting event.

And obviously, the cue to sleep debt results in functional and cognitive impairment which can result in car accidents. And I just saw a statistic recently that there 8000 fatalities every day from car accidents, and the majority of those are due to sleep deprivation. So planned some naps, wind down your shift with a routine enlist family for support. And so those are all strategies to help you survive shiftwork.

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