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Get Some Sleep: When shift work disrupts your rest
November 23rd, 2010
12:43 PM ET

Get Some Sleep: When shift work disrupts your rest

An estimated 20 percent of the American workforce does some type of shift work. This doesn’t have to mean working the graveyard shift.  It can mean any work done between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Most sleep doctors agree that working at night, from a biologic point of view, is not natural for human beings.  We have evolved to be active in the daytime and to sleep at night.  In fact nearly every cell in our body has a circadian rhythm, meaning that biological processes have a 24-hour cycle.   And this is how we lived for thousands of years, until the invention of the lightbulb, which has allowed us to separate our activities from the rhythm of the sun, but at our own peril.

Some people can shift their sleep-wake schedule fairly easily. Others have a very hard time sleeping in the daytime and are very tired when they need to be awake.  Such people suffer from "shift work disorder," which is classified as a circadian rhythm disorder by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders-II.  Although we have good estimates for the number of shift workers, we don’t have good data yet on how many actually suffer from shift work disorder

More and more research is showing the consequences of shift work.  It has been linked to work-related and traffic accidents, to psychiatric and GI illness and even to heart disease and cancer.  In fact, The International Agency for Research on Cancer (a subcommittee of the World Health Organization) published a statement in 2007 that classified shift work as a “probable carcinogen.”

So how could shift work be linked to heart disease? Experimental studies have shown that when people sleep in the day instead of at night, they tend to have higher blood pressures during sleep.  They also reverse their normal cortisol rhythm, the ebb and flow of the body’s natural stress hormone. They have a decrease in leptin, which is the hormone that helps make you feel full. They also have increased levels of glucose and insulin to such an extent that in a matter of days, normal people can develop pre-diabetes just by staying up at night and sleeping in the day.

Cancer is thought to be linked to shift work because of the suppression of melatonin, which is normally at its highest during the biological night.  If you’re working under bright lights at night, you produce less melatonin. Melatonin, a naturally occurring “darkness hormone” secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, is a potent antioxidant, and secreting less could explain the connection between night work and cancer.

One really interesting question that’s still being studied is: If you’re a “night owl,” are you somehow protected from the apparent health consequences of night work?  In other words, if it seems “natural” to you to stay up late, then maybe you are not at the same risk as people who work against their own biology. We don't have good answers yet.

For the millions of you who do shift work, here are some tips to help minimize insomnia and fatigue.

First, remember that light is the most powerful stimulant that tells your brain it is time to be awake and alert.  So it is good to have bright light during the night while you are working, but when you are driving home in the morning, we recommend that people wear dark sunglasses with a hat or visor in order to prepare themselves for sleep when they get home. If the dark sunglasses don’t work, then I recommend glasses that filter the blue wavelength.  (I use the ones made by Lite Book for my patients).  But if you’re falling asleep driving home, then that is a different story and requires a different approach, and you should discuss the situation immediately with your physician.

It is important to make your daytime sleep environment mimic a nighttime one as much as possible.  Blackout shades are a good idea. Shut off the telephone. Disconnect the doorbell.  Family members must be encouraged to protect the sleep time of their loved one who is a shift worker.  An additional approach is to use melatonin.

Studies have shown that melatonin can be a useful sleep aid to people trying to sleep in the daytime.  In fact, it is much more successful at inducing sleep when taken in the daytime when your levels are naturally low.  It should be taken when you are already home because it will likely start having an effect in about 30 minutes.

The other big piece of advice if you’re working the graveyard shift is to try to not completely shift your sleep/wake time when you have days off.  Try to have a bedtime that is in between your nightshift bed time and the time that a day worker would go to bed. That way, you have sleep/wake times on days off that allow you to socialize or take care of your affairs, but you will still have a late bedtime so that when you go back to work, you can make the transition more easily.

Most people will be helped by these behavior changes, but some will still suffer from insomnia or excessive sleepiness, that is they will have shift work disorder that has not responded to lifestyle changes.  For these people, there is a medication, normally used for narcolepsy, now FDA-approved for use in shift work disorder:  armodafinil (Nuvigil).   Night work might not be natural, but it looks like it is here to stay and so I will try to keep my readers up to date on the latest developments in research on shift work disorder and its health consequences.

Lisa Shives, M.D., is the founder of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Illinois. She’ll blog on Tuesdays on The Chart. Read more from her at Dr. Lisa Shives’ Sleep Better Blog.

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soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. guest

    I fully agree. I have been working nights for 3 years now, even though I know Its not the healthest thing.
    When I drive home I do wear sunglasses since my eyes are sensitive to the light. My windows in my room are completley covered with thick curtains to block out any light. My family does one hell of a job to keep quiet (thank god for that) and I havent had an issue so far. Employees that I work with often complain about working nights... I guess they dont know the secrets on getting your rest and managing things your way. We can all do it if we wanted. Thanks for the tips even though I already knew a couple. Its about time they have a sleep doctor on here!!! Sleep Is very important. There is SO much to talk about.

    November 23, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Zzzzz

    I actually brought my roommate a pair of those glasses because he works overnight at the hospital. From what he told me they work wonders because when he comes home he is ready to knock out on the couch. They should give you a piece of their $$ for advertising them.

    November 23, 2010 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Shives MD

      Many of my patients do think that these glasses help induce drowsiness. Just for the record: I have no financial relationship with the Lite Book company.

      November 23, 2010 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
  3. Theresa

    I am a nurse that works the night shift 7PM-07:30 AM, I have always been a night owl ever since high school so working nights and sleeping days does not bother me a bit....but my family is very disruptive to my sleep, but when they are gone, I sleep like great during the day and on my nights off, I stay up to about 2-3 am and love to sleep in til noon. I have been doing this for 15+ years, I am only 32 but work with night nurses that have been on the job for decades and do not see any extra health problems in them as compared to the day nurses who have worked the same years on the job.

    November 23, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Roy

      I worked a night fill in shift so there was never a set shift. I retired two years ago and still have not been able to establish a normal sleep pattern. I doubt that I ever will.

      November 23, 2010 at 18:26 | Report abuse |
    • Minesa99

      I've been working nights almost exclusively for 25 years and suffer no illness or other symptoms mentioned in this article. I have absolutely no problem sleeping during the day and when my family wakes me up I roll over and go back to sleep.

      On my days off I stay up to spend time with my family – my fridays typically run 28hrs with my Sunday return to work running about 24hrs.

      My biggest issue is the rest of my family who can't understand why I can't drive 5hrs round trip to spend the day with them then go in to work all night. After 25 years they still can't grasp the concept of working nights. Drives me nuts.

      November 24, 2010 at 06:07 | Report abuse |
    • Holly

      I am an overhead crane operator at a steel plant and have always preferred the night shift to day shift. I worked straight days for seven years and, by 4PM, I was shot! I would fall asleep and be wide awake at two in the morning. Since I have gotten my straight 7P-7A shift back, my stress has gone down considerably. Like you, I was a night owl all my life and am glad that I can work nights in my job.

      March 25, 2011 at 21:05 | Report abuse |
  4. Chickenhead

    Have trouble sleeping? Reading this article will take care of that...

    November 23, 2010 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • guest

      Im getting sleepy reading your comment you Chicken head

      November 23, 2010 at 18:41 | Report abuse |
  5. Greg

    I work 12 hour nights and have for a couple decades. I have no shades at all in my bedroom and the light shines on me as I sleep during the day. I rarely have a problem getting a six hours a day. My only issue with shut-eye is getting some sleep at night on my days off.

    November 23, 2010 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Edna S.

      I have trouble sleeping during my days off just like you! I can sleep during my work days straight from 8:30a.m until 4:00 pm and I am fine, but on my days off... I can't manage to sleep well at all! =( I cant seem to get comfortable and I wake up often so I feel tired and grumpy lately (only on my days off)

      November 4, 2013 at 06:18 | Report abuse |
  6. Longtimecop

    You know, I always read articles about shift work and how it affects your sleep. Some of these are very good tips and I've used them myself. Some are common sense, like the black-out curtains; others, like taking melatonin, are more recent discoveries.

    But there's another issue to shift work: I've yet to see an article that addresses shift work that rotates. I'm a police officer and have been for the last 20 years. My department has day shift, swing shift and night shift. We work 3-days-on/3-days off with a 12-hour work shift. So we have a 6-day week instead of a 7-day week. We rotate from days to swings to nights every 4 of our weeks–that's every 24 days for you 7-day a week people.

    Adjusting to straight nights or swings is easy. Adjusting every 24 days to a different shift is not so easy. The only thing that works for me is booting myself around the clock, particularly when I'm rotating to night shift. I stay up all night, or as late as possible, on the days off before night shift begins, then I get up very early on the day I start nights–say 5am–so I can easily nap 4 or 5 hours in the afternoon before I go to work. It keeps me awake that first night back, which is always the hardest night. Once you get through the first one, the rest are easy. When I'm rotating to day shift, I do the same thing, only backwards. Swings, which are split between 11am-11pm or 3pm to 3am, aren't so bad and really don't take a lot of work to prepare for.

    For emergency personnel–police officers, firefighters, medical professionals, etc.–shift work, including rotating shift work, is here to stay. I don't think people would like it too much if you couldn't get a cop or firefighter to your house in the middle of the night or if the hospital closed at 9pm.

    To be honest, I have to admit there are major advantages to working only 1/2 the time and getting three days off every week :-D I worked the Monday-thru-Friday-8-to-5 once; hated every minute of it.

    What's the recommendation for rotating shifts? Anyone else use something different that works for them?

    November 23, 2010 at 19:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Shives MD

      Thanks for bringing this up. I couldn't address all the aspects of this topic in one blog post. Rotating shifts is very hard on most people. The most enlightened police departments rotate shifts once every year. That is what the Evanston Police Department does.

      November 23, 2010 at 20:24 | Report abuse |
    • Longtimecop

      That'd be nice. I know of departments that rotate every 4 months–real months :O) I don't think the rotation will be changed any time soon. We have a good chief but there's a touch of "it's always worked before" on some things. This is something that's been addressed in the past with no result. I imagine it'll get changed some day but not before I retire.

      November 23, 2010 at 22:18 | Report abuse |
    • John Boom

      I am a US Customs Officer and we rotate shifts every week with every 4th week a midnight shift. So our scedule is a 5 day 8am-4pm, 4pm-12am, 8am-4pm, then we have a 7 day 12am-8am shift with 4 days off after, IF we are not called for overtime. We average 50+ hours per week at least, and let me tell you most officers here have little or no sick time saved because of the stress these hours put on the body. What I have found works for me is following a strict scedule of going to bed at 10:30pm on the day shift, and 12:30 am on the swing shift. That way the two shifts only have a 2 hour difference in bed time, very managable. The mid shifts I do the same as you, go to bed as late or as early as I can before the first night, get through that first night and then its OK. I wear a black winter hat pulled down over my eyes and ears when I sleep during the day also with earplugs and a meletonin pill and I am good for the week. What I find helps is going to bed then one hour later each day of my midnight shift, by the last day I am going to bed at 3pm to 11pm and then staying up all day the next day until 8pm is managable. I've done this for 9 years and barely call in sick or have any medical issues. One last thing, excercise at least 30 mins per day even during your mid shifts seems to help, gets the body energy during the waking time and sleepy during sleep time, hope this helps and thanks for sharing.

      November 24, 2010 at 13:10 | Report abuse |
    • SuperMan

      I know you probably get this a lot and hate it but I can't resist... Glazed or Powdered?

      December 5, 2010 at 21:48 | Report abuse |
    • 911swingshifter

      I am all too familiar with the regularly rotating type of shifts you speak of. I work 911 for an agency where we do an 8 day "week." For example, say we start our tour on Monday, we would work 7a-7p Monday and Tuesday, off Wednesday during the day, back in Wednesday and Thursday nights 7p-7a, walk out the door Friday at 7a, and then start back next week on Tuesday at 7a for day work, moving our next tour ahead a day of the week. While most people would probably tend to have the hardest time with the nights, for me its the 2 days. I was a night owl before starting this job, going to bed at 2 or 3a was normal for me, so when we finish our nights, I typically come home and pass out for about 8 hours. The problem with this being it sets me up for failure, as I end up staying on that late night schedule for all of the off days, and come time to flip back to days, I can only manage 3-4 hours of very broken sleep before a 12 hour shift. Between days and nights, I stay awake very late, usually until at least 4 or 5a (comes to being awake about 24 hours), then sleep all day, however after the (usually) slower night shift, I find I am physically too tired, and even when trying, I can't manage staying awake past 1p before falling asleep. At that point, all it really does is throw the sleep schedule off that much more. I'm not one who can really nap, once I'm out, I'm really out. All that said, any suggestions for those of us night owl's who get to serve our night hours, only to have to flip-flop back and suffer alongside normal people a few days a week as well?
      I don't see our shifts changing in the near future either, due to a combination of "well its always worked before," and a majority of our labor union members not wanting to give up any of our schedule's built in overtime hours.

      December 15, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
  7. former shift worker

    I was a sleep technician for about 3 years and of course I knew about shift work disorder as well as how to alleviate the symptoms. I put on my dark shades before I even walked out the door in the morning. I also kept a dark bedroom and luckily for me, everyone else in my apartment building worked a regular schedule so it was always very quiet when I slept. Although my co-workers also tried wearing the sunglasses on their way home and also kept dark bedrooms, their problem was that once they got home, they did not alot themselves the proper sleep time. Especially when the weather was nice, I would hear stories the following night from my exhausted co-workers about how they went home and tended to their garden or went to breakfast or lunch with a friend and then the day got away from them and they only found about 1-2 hours to try to get some rest. Whereas the key to my success was that I was very strict with my sleep schedule and only if there was a pressing matter would I schedule an appt or run an errand during the time I should have been sleeping. I dedicated 8 am to 4 pm to sleep and then went about my day. Even then, fully rested, I was fully functional at 4 a.m. only with the help of a cappucino or an energy drink. I can't even imagine how my unrested co-workers got by from night to night.

    November 23, 2010 at 19:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jlf

    Excellent advice. I will send to my brother-in-law who works night shift as a manager for an international shipping firm.

    November 23, 2010 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. nurse

    i've been working the night shift 23:00 to 8:00 the last 2 years as a RN. I find that I get really nauseated whenever I wake up for work and my first night off. Any explanation why?
    Also I really hate the one on, one off, one on, etc. – on every other day schedule. Its torture. Anyone else find it difficult to have a social life as a young adult?

    November 23, 2010 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dancel82

      In the Navy we call that Port and Starboard (12 on 12 off) and it SUCKS... itis hard to have any kind of life with this shift as it is usually (from my expereicne) performed underway where circadioan rhythm is replaced by flourescent or red lights and grewy bulkheads (walls). I would recommend speaking to your supervisor to find out if you can do a rotating schedule that allows for more flexibility in your personal life. (I ama shift worker now by sheer accident and working 2-10PM everyday is disrutption enough with a family. As for the Nausea, who knows, I would def. talk to a Dr.

      December 8, 2010 at 20:52 | Report abuse |
  10. NicoleNight

    I work overnights and have for about 4 years and I have black out curtains and live alone while living in a very quiet neighborhood. Once I go to bed which is usually as soon as I get home, I have a sound maker and it helps me sleep listening to rain or wind or such. Makes me think it's actually dark outside and I fall and stay asleep.

    November 23, 2010 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Al

    Any advice for someone who works 2 jobs and goes to school full time?! I just don't know how to sleep anymore. I've even tried OTC sleep aids. It takes about 3 days of no sleep to get me to a point where I feel like I can finally rest. My friends and family suggest a neurologist or sleep specialist? Any idea if this is normal?

    November 23, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Shives MD

      Al, it is not normal to go three days without sleep. Please seek the help of a sleep specialist or a psychologist with expertise in insomnia. And remember that cognitive behavior therapy is more effective in the long run than sleep medications. You can find an accredited sleep center near you by going to the website of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Good luck.

      November 24, 2010 at 09:19 | Report abuse |
    • Dancel82

      Do you absolutely HAVE to work two jobs or can you live without the extra income at the cost of your samity? If you don't have to,I agree, slow down and enjoy life. Finish school at least and then if you can, look for a higher paying job. But don't earn all that money just to will it to someone becasue you died of an early heart attack. RELAAAAX

      December 8, 2010 at 21:02 | Report abuse |
  12. Don Juan

    I worked swing shift, 3Pm to Midnight for decades. I didn't have any problem with that but for six months I had to work Midnight
    to 7AM. That was a killer!! I would always get sleepy and depressed at dawn. I could hardly keep my eyes open until
    reaching home and collapsing into bed. Even worse than the sleep disfunction was regulating new eating habits.

    November 23, 2010 at 23:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. mmi16

    I have been working 11PM to 7AM for the past 20 years. My biggest problem is when I have Rest Days and am semi-forced to adopt a 'daylight' schedule. If I had my druthers, I would prefer to work 7 nights a week and maintain my sleep schedule.

    The other problem is returning to work after a period of vacation and observing a daylight schedule during that time. The first couple of weeks back on the night time schedule I am lucky if I can get 4 hours of sleep after I get home and in bed. As I become more aclimated to the return to the night schedule my sleep will increase to 6 to 7 hours.

    November 23, 2010 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Don Juan

    ATTN : AL...Reading between the lines, I would say that your main problem is you're living your life in an unbalanced fashion. You're working yourself until the point of exhaustion. Sounds like your surviving on nervous energy.
    The stress hormones will take their toll on your general health. Slow down and live longer Al. Life is all about balance.

    November 24, 2010 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Stosh

    Yawn. I'm tired.

    November 24, 2010 at 02:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. tammifield

    Companies do give out samples. They are looking to put their products in potential consumers' hands. They wouldn't do it if it didn't work one of the place that always worked is "123 Get Samples" search online

    November 24, 2010 at 03:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Mark

    I've worked midnight shifts since 1994. The first suggestion I had from someone or some pamplet prior to working on nights was to sleep with a fan on which creates "white noise". This helps if you happen to live near a major roadway with a lot of traffic, etc. The noise from the fan blocks out the inconsistent traffic noise (or noise from inside the house, etc) and the noise from the fan is consistent so it should not wake you up. Never had an issue sleeping days with the fan on. Try it!!

    November 24, 2010 at 04:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jack

    I work nights and have a totally blacked out room, loud fan, ear plugs, and my stay-at-home wife does everything she can to keep the house quiet while I sleep.. But my neighborhood is full of people who make noise a lot. I wish they could experience what it's like to wake up in the middle of deep sleep to some of their noise. At least at night if someone is noisy, you can call the cops. During the day what can you say about lawnmowers, leaf blowers, boat motors (out of the water), even loud music?

    November 24, 2010 at 06:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Tony

    i've worked night shift for six (6) years now. so far, i don't have any health issue except that i have a high cholesterol. I've tried almost everything to keep me asleep for at least (7) hours sleep during the day but i have only (3) hours sleep in the morning and (3) hours sleep in the afternoon despite that my room is in total darkness and quite. i've tried the over the coutner sleeping pills but doen'st work (had a side effect). I wonder, if my (3) hours sleep installment in the day and in the afternoon is considered healhty sleeping habit and to balance my sleep for a total of (6) hours a day?

    November 24, 2010 at 07:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Shives MD

      Many sleep experts think that sleeping in "installments", as you say, can be just as effective as sleeping in a consolidated block of time. Certainly it is better than just not getting enough sleep for a 24 hour period.

      November 24, 2010 at 09:30 | Report abuse |
  20. Susan

    I am a Nurse and have worked the 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift for about 5 years now. I usually do ok (with the help of a cup or 2 of coffee), but I usually start to feel nauseous around 4:00 a.m. I usually take Benadryl to help me sleep after I've been off for a day or two and have to work that night so that I can take a nap before being up all night. I would like to try the Melatonin, but what dose do you recommend?

    November 24, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lisa Shives MD

      Hi Susuan,
      Start with 3-5 mg 30 mins before sleep time but you should relax in bed shortly after taking it. You can go as high as 10 mg. Europeans have stricter regulations on these "supplements" so if you can order Melatonin from a manufacturer in Europe, especially Norway or Germany, I highly recommend that because you are more likely to get a pure substance.

      November 24, 2010 at 12:52 | Report abuse |
  21. Jerry Actreic

    Working the midnight shift for 20 years has my bloodpressure so high that it spurts out like a fountain at the slightest cut. My ex-army doc gives me 'No-go' pills to sleep and then I take a 'Go-pill' as soon as I wake up, along with a few shots of esspresso. I guess I am OK other than the bloodpressure but this is taking its toll

    November 24, 2010 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Tony

    @ Lisa Shives MD – Thanks for your input and appreciated. i believe I agree with you that "installment" sleeping habit is way better than not geting enough sleep for 24 hours. My next question is, if i have to continue this working shift at night for a bit longer like 10 – 15 years as Jerry Arctreic described above, does it really affect my health even though i ate healthy foods and constant exercise just to balance my high cholestrol? i tried not to take any medication for cholesterol.

    November 25, 2010 at 06:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. The Man

    I like sleeping with good dreams.... :D

    December 5, 2010 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Dom

    I'm 32yo & I've been working a 2pm-11pm shift for many years now. My daily roundtrip work commute is about 3hrs. I leave home by 12pm & arrive back at 12am if I'm lucky (no OT). My sleep hrs. are normally 3am-10am. I have shutters & live in a pretty quiet neighborhood so sleep isn't much of an issue. However, having a decent social life is. Anybody here feel the same?

    December 7, 2010 at 00:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. warren

    I worked the night shift for 30 years and slept from 7 until 1. I have been retired for 6 months now and I have been unable to switch my sleeping habits to a regular sleep schedule. I still get my best sleep between 6 am and noon no matter what I try.

    December 11, 2010 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Andrew

    I workk in breakfast commercial radio(newsreader) and have 0400 starts.....so getting-up 0315 five nights a week....I try to be in bed no later than 9 o'clock most nights...But I'll generally wake just after midnight and then be in and out of sleep til the alarm clock goes off.....I love my job but these hours are killing me...We're just not meant to be working in the middle of the night...Constantly sleepy...up-and-down emotions .. can't take this anymore.....Something's gotta give....

    December 16, 2010 at 05:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Andrew

    So bloody tired I put two k's in work....

    December 16, 2010 at 05:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. ns

    You all have it easy compared to me. I work TWENTY FOUR HOUR SHIFTS (24 hours on, 48 hours off) Those 24 hours I could be busy all day responding to 911 calls and then after midnight be forced to run 2-3 calls. Meaning that in 24 hours I get an average of 3-4 hours of sleep. Some nights we sleep all night, but more often that not, we almost always have to get up after midnight. See what THAT does to your body after 10 years of doing it. I signed up for this job 11 years ago. If only I knew then what I know now. It's grueling. And yes, my body and mind have already had some serious ill effects from it. Nobody cares though. The system will never change. We will continue to "suck it up !" because we are "men" and "men" don't cry. So i will die young...simple matter of it all. Do some research on a busy fire dept. than does 24 hour shifts and you would be so suprised at what you learn.

    December 18, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Andrew

    Pardon me(us, dare I say) sharing our "feelings" about shift-work....Yes! Mr US firefighter you beat us all!.. with your horrific hours and no doubt the hell of firefighting that goes with it....but your response .. well, it's not exactly helpful....is it?.

    December 19, 2010 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Rebecca

    My favorite shift is 2nd shift (usually around 3:30 pm to midnight). I find that first shift does not mesh well with my sleep patterns. I tried for 10 years to be "normal" and work first shift, but I found that I am fatigued all day, easily stressed, and get sick more often. While working first shift I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but working second shift again has diminished the "symptoms" so much that I no longer need medication. My sleep doctor said she's convinced that working second shift is definitely healthier for me than trying to "adjust" to a "normal" lifestyle.

    January 7, 2011 at 02:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Vampiress

      Been working "graveyard shift" off/on for 10 yes now but now that I work this shift full-time I have a wrecked sleep pattern. I walk around tired like the life has been sucked out of me all the time. Between family, friends and bill collectors that inundate me with calls during the day and my son who keeps me up when he gets out of school. I'm lucky if I get 2-3 hrs right before work. Talk about health problems... the sugar and caffeine required to "function" has caused dental problems and urinary issues not to mention high cholesterol. I too get nauseous before work and after work. Lets not even talk about mood swings and low tolerance levels... which is a direct freeway to no social life. But at the end of the day (aka beginning of my shift) I have to be grateful that at least I have a job.

      January 10, 2011 at 03:02 | Report abuse |
  31. Troy

    Recently, I began working the night shift as a medical worker at a local hospital. I feel I've made all the classic mistakes, i.e., drinking coffee late into the shift, consuming alcohol when arriving home, leaving my cell phone turned on in case my wife needs to get hold of me, exercising prior to attempting to sleep... you get the picture. I love the silence of the night shift, compared to the loud, busy energy of the day shift, and that special bond that night workers seem to share. The information imparted by all of you on this website has been invaluable. I hope I can adjust and stay healthy because the night shift is my only choice presently.

    March 25, 2011 at 20:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Kirin

    I have worked nights 1900-0730 as an RN for about 3 years now. Overall, I like the shift. It is a bit less hectic, and I love the teamwork my coworkers and I share. Not to mention the shift differential rocks! It does wear on me after 3 shifts in a row though, and working 4 is just not safe...
    The biggest problem I encounter is that managers and supervisors have no idea of what these shifts are like – because they don't have to work them. One of the harder parts is working mandatory on call shifts, especially for some of the older nurses/techs I work with. There's also the fact that everyone seems to think we get to spend our nights chatting at the nurse's station because ALL of our patients are soundly asleep all night... yeah, right!
    I manage by keeping my bedroom a dark, cool cave and taking melatonin and an herbal blend before bed. I do tend to sleep in 3 hour chunks no matter what I do though. On my days off, I do a ton of Taiji and Qigong, which has helped my over all health and seems to work to balance everything back out. Otherwise, I do my best to follow a decent diet, and avoid caffeine. I just sleep whenever I feel like it when I'm not working. Kinda miss having a social lie overall though.
    I don't think I can do it forever, but as long as I'm working as a bedside nurse, I'd like to keep working nights!

    March 26, 2011 at 04:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. candy

    healthcare worker, plus nursing student. I have been on 11pm to 7am shift now for 7 years. Dayshift people just dont understand us. I come into work and i turn the lights down, Its too bright for me. On my days off i am up for 20+ hours. My kids understand that i need sleep, but are ready for me in 4 hours after i go to bed. My boss always plans meetings during my "bedtime" 1pm . I tried to explain it try to have it first thing in the morning or later in the evening. Im 38 and had Thyroid cancer, and heart spasms could this be linked to night shift?

    March 26, 2011 at 05:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Fallsnative

    I have been a shift worker now for most of 25 years. I started in the Air Force and then transitioned into the CIV world. My schedule now is 7 on 7 off 12.5 hour shifts, one week of days and one week of mids each month. I've found after 5 years of this schedule that its the best rotating shift schedule I have ever had. When trying to sleep during the day, its dark our blinds, a sleep mask, ear plugs and the phone is off. Typicall my first day of sleep is hardest with only about 4 hours and it builds throughout the week till where i am getting almost 8 hours. I've also found naps before work for at least an hour or so really help as well. I work out on nights as well plus take extra care not to each junk food or sodas. Good luck everyone.

    March 26, 2011 at 07:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Tony R

    I work a swing shift. I work all 3 shifts and they change every week. I will work 3rd shift starting Thurs and go to the next Wed. on the weekends we work 12 hours. we will get Thurs. and Fri. off and then start 1st shift. 12 hrs on the weekend and work thru Fri. get the weekend off and start 2nd shift, Mon thru Fri. get 5 days off and start the process again. If you work a doubls shift, 16 hours, then its even worse. this is in a chemical plant. its very hard to stay awake.

    March 26, 2011 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Carol

    I worked third shift for eleven years, and never got into a normal sleep pattern...I fought sleep driving home in the mornings, and it didn't matter how much sleep I'd gotten the day before...third shift hours are great though, you can get everything done during the week you need to, if you don't mind not sleeping...

    March 26, 2011 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Troy

    I have no problem sleeping the morning after my first shift. I arrive home, eat a nice breakfast, and I hit the rack and am out cold. Keeping my cell phone on is a mistake. I feel like I need to be linked to my wife, who is working her day shift job, and the phone invariably wakes me up, No sleep after that. My greatest recent challenge in the night shift saga is the remarkable schedule that my supervisor has created for me this month. My schedule changes monthly. This month my supervisor has me working two days on, one day off, one day on, one day off, one day on, two days off. It's all over the place. When I stare into my bathroom mirror, I see the crinkled, wrinkled visage of a sleep deprived night owl. Night owl? No. More like a Chinese Shar-Pei. I tend to agree with Kirin. It adds insult to injury when you hear the remarks many day-shifters make about how cake us night shifters have it. I don't know about the rest of you out there, but night shift work at a hospital is no walk in the park. It's every bit as challenging as working day shift, which I have done, only you're working on a fraction of the sleep.

    March 26, 2011 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Daniel

    I work from 1am until noon, five days a week. Every day I fall asleep while driving on the way home from work, and I will have to pull over to sleep. When I worked days and slept at night, I could sleep 7-9 hours a day. However, when I work nights, I get by on 3-5 hrs a day and function well.

    March 26, 2011 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Jay

    I use to work nights, 12 hours, 7p to 7a, 4 nights a week. I would discipline my sleep time, 8a to 4p; ate healthy, salads and fruit at night, exercised before work – regularly. I'd revert back to a day schedule after my shift, then the afternoon before my first shift of the work week, I would take a nap for about 3 hours. This essentially allowed my to change my schedule from day to night, with a min of problems.

    March 26, 2011 at 20:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Bob

    I have worked minight shifts for 23 years now. If you must work midnight shifts, black-out shades are a must, and so is a large fan in your bedroom. Unless it gets warm in your bedroom, point the fan away from you and use it to provide white noise to overcome the noises from neighbors mowing lawns, bird chirping and kids playing. The fan also keeps the air circulating well in your bedroom. If you are really struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, take melatonin and 50mg of Diphenhydramine HCl (the antihistamine in many "PM" cold medicines), for the first day or so. It will knock you out within 30 minutes and likely help you get 8 hours of sleep, but be prepared to be groggy for 30 minutes once you wake up.

    March 27, 2011 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Jason

    I've worked nights and even two full time shifts and it is not the best health wise. Check out this article on ways to reduce risk of shift disorder – http://jobsworkingnights.com/ways-to-reduce-risk-of-shift-disorder/

    January 7, 2013 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Laura C

    I just started on night shift a few weeks ago due to the need to have an adult home after school to supervise home work and quash party plans of teens. I too always felt nauseated when I would stay up all night when I took call. It went away after the second shift. I have a cave with a fan and a white noise maker. I sleep very well for 5-6 hours and then I lay down for 1-2 hours before I go in. I exercise and try to eat lightly with fruit and veggies and soup. I do take melatonin to sleep. I have found that I am drinking 1/2 the caffeine I used to drink on day shift. I also found that I only use half of the Ultram I use for my arthritis. So far, so good.

    February 4, 2013 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
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  47. Pat

    I worked at a hospital for 20 months. During most of that time, I was assigned to work rotating shifts. This meant that during the same week, I would often have work days (8-hour shifts started at 6:30, 7, 8 or 9:30 in the morning) or evenings (from 3 to 11:30 P.M or 3:30 to midnight.) Sometimes I got a day off between rotating shifts, and it was easier to go from days to evenings, rather than vice versa. However, the most brutal work assignments involved getting off work at midnight and having to return at 7 A.M. the next day. In essence, this meant that I had to work 16 hours in a 24-hour period. The next day I would have to work the same hours (i.e. from 7A.M to 3:30 P.M>) If I did not find myself getting drowsy in the car driving home, then I fell asleep in the chair in the living room within an hour of arriving home. Not only did these hours play havoc with my personal life, they also impacted my work performance. I was criticized for making errors at work and for being "slow" by people who weren't working 16 hours per day. Eventually my employment was terminated and guess what? I didn't receive any unemployment benefits. The job I held required the utmost accuracy because patients' lives were at stake, yet the hours I was assigned to work made that standard impossible for me to uphold. I should have complained to HR while this was going on, but I was afraid to "rock the boat."Due to extreme financial pressures, I was determined to keep my job at all costs. Now I have been out for work for 3 years. I feel like I was victimized. However, in the state where I live, it is not illegal for employers to provide an 8-hour rest period between shifts. I think this is wrong but it is not illegal. Moreover, my former supervisors made me feel stupid and incompetent for making errors while cynically assigning me to those shifts. I felt like they were trying to get rid of me. Ultimately, they succeeded. After I "left" the department and contested the state's decision to cut off my unemployment benefits, the director of the department "decided" that employees could no longer "double back" or work until midnight and come back for the first shift the next day.

    I am still angry and bitter over this and I don't know what to do. This experience has essentially ruined my life.

    May 19, 2013 at 05:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Pat

    Sorry, in my previous post I meant to say that employers are not required by law to provide an 8-hour rest period between shifts.

    May 19, 2013 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Donovan Bradeen

    i always wear sleep mask because i always have some difficulty sleeping specially when i am thinking too much.^'^..

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    July 4, 2013 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Dean

    I realize this is an old article, but have any of you tried circadian phase shifting? I cant seem to get any of my co workers to believe that it really works.

    November 21, 2014 at 15:03 | Report abuse | Reply

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