The alarm buzzes and you wake up a little confused. It’s dark outside, but you accidentally left all the lights on. You have no idea what time it is, and there’s a pile of Ritz crackers in your bed…. Oh wait, that’s just me?
Look, I am an absolute hot mess when I wake up in the morning. Notice how I said “the morning”… I don’t even have a non-traditional sleep schedule, and it’s still a struggle to get my bearings. If I had a nickel for every time I hit the snooze button, I would be a very wealthy woman.
In the winter, we deal with shorter days, and long, cold hours of darkness that can make motivation an uphill battle. As springtime rolls around, it gets better… but then there’s daylight savings to contend with, and thunderstorm weather that can leave anyone a little foggy-brained. When you’re changing your work and sleep hours as a traveler, it’s even more jolting. One minute you’re sleeping during the day and working long evening shifts, and the next you’re back to a regularly scheduled nighttime sleep routine.
Overcoming sleep problems caused by a non-traditional work schedule can be, well… exhausting. (No pun intended.) It’s frustrating when most things are planned around a day worker’s schedule. Like, when are you supposed to go to the post office? Maybe your favorite grocery store has traditional hours, making that 5 a.m. toaster waffle errand a bit of a challenge. Even onsite and offsite gyms can have restricted hours, making your evening shift even tougher to navigate.
And there’s a lot of you out there! There are approximately 22 million Americans who work evening, rotating, or on-call shifts. So how do you get your bearings?
Whether you’re switching from day shift to night shift or vice versa, you can be more susceptible to getting sick, since your body is getting used to a new sleep cycle. You’re also prone to Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD), which interrupts your circadian rhythm and can manifest in insomnia and wake-time sleepiness, like falling asleep on the job or impaired mental sharpness and reaction time. Studies show that being tired can have a negative effect on several things, including: attention span, concentration time, reaction time, mood, and memory. So make sure you’re allowing yourself enough time to sleep. I know, it’s easier said than done, but the sooner you can ease yourself into a new routine, the better off you’ll be both at work and during other activities.
Because sleep is such a big component in shift changes, it can help to avoid tedious and monotonous tasks around 4 a.m. (when night shift workers tend to experience the most fatigue). If you’re feeling a bit sleepy on the job, try some exercise. I know, it seems like the last thing you’d want to do is pick up those running shoes when you want to pick up a pillow, but even just a small movement to get the blood pumping can help. Take the stairs a few floors, take a walk around the floor, or dance it out to one of Fusion’s Travel Playlists or our Make The Rounds playlist on Spotify. Really, who would pass up the opportunity for a 4 a.m. hospital dance party?
Caffeine can help, but only in moderation. Hold up, though, there's no need to sound the alarm. Nobody is telling you to ditch that latte. But as with most things we tend to enjoy in life (hello, cheesecake)—it does well to limit your intake. Too much caffeine (yes, not just coffee but energy drinks and soda too) may lead to blood pressure spikes and an increased risk for heart attacks. So enjoy your cup of joe, or your fizzy drink, but try to break the habit of pouring another, or cracking that 2nd aluminum can open. Drink some water instead. Staying hydrated helps you stay alert.
Night workers—we know you’re out there. We hear you, and we know the struggle is real. We hope you try these things to help ease your ever-changing schedule. The difference could be night and day.