When I was a kid my father worked nights and slept during the day. I slept at night and wailed on my electric guitar during the day hoping to be the next Jimi Hendrix. Thus was created a perfect storm of conflict between an irritated bread winner, a moody rock-besotted teenager, and a long suffering and stressed out mother trying to keep the peace. I begrudgingly put away my amp and electric guitar with tremolo bar and to everyone’s relief took up the quieter hobby of cartooning.
Scientists study how shift workers’ erratic sleep patterns affect them. It’s a vexing problem because the whole planet can’t go to sleep at once. Somebody’s got to enforce the law, put out the fires, operate the hospital ER’s, and, in my dad’s case, run ferry boats in Puget Sound.
Here are some pointers for nurses, refinery workers, and others who work nights and sleep during the day.
- Eat and sleep well before your shift, but no large meals before going to sleep.
- Avoid excess caffeine or nicotine.
- Make the sleep environment dark, quiet, and cool.
- Avoid vigorous exercise close to sleep time.
- Sleep in split shifts if necessary, 3-4 hours before the shift and 3-4 hours after.
- Keep a continuous sleep schedule on days off.
- DO NOT DRIVE if drowsy. If you must drive remember: highway rest stops are one of life’s great inventions.
- Expose yourself to sunlight (or bright artificial light) after awakening.
- Educate your family and friends to not call, text, play the electric guitar, or interrupt your sleep.
- Try to be active during work breaks: walk, exercise, conversation with others.
- Brainstorm with other shift workers to see how they manage.
- Don’t leave boring or tedious work to the end of the shift (night shift workers are most sleepy about 4:00 AM).
- Make your noisy guitar playing teenager shut up. It won’t kill him/her.
Tomorrow: Free Sleeping Aid