Your brain on night shift
JAMIE NOTHSTINE is an emergency room nurse, a certified Primal Health Coach, with a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology and Bachelor Degree of Nursing. She also has a passion for fitness and nutrition. Here Jamie shares her personal tips for working night shifts as a health professional, and still getting regular rejuvenating sleep.
If you work the graveyard shift, do any of the following sound like you?
After working the night shift for nearly 11 years, I definitely checked most of those boxes, and as an RN in the emergency room you do not want any of them. You need to be alert, on your feet and ready for an emergency at a drop of a hat. You have lives in your hands!
As years went by I noticed how my mood and health was changing. I had to figure out why. I kept telling myself, “I’m not me anymore.” Yes, the stress of the ER can definitely change a person, but this was something more.
I would notice that my sleep was not optimal, and the worse it was the worse I felt. Even my days off were spent lying on the couch like a slug. I didn’t want to go to social gatherings, visit family, or do anything but sleep and eat.
The more I researched, the more I learned the three big words that were making me feel the way I was, and those 3 words are “Disrupted Circadian Cycle.”
Why is our circadian sleep cycle so important?
Getting adequate sleep is essential to weight loss, peak performance (physically and mentally) and longevity.
For billions of years, the evolution of nearly all life forms on Earth has been driven by the rising and setting of the sun. This circadian rhythm governs our sleeping and eating patterns, as well as the precise timing of important hormone secretions, brainwave patterns, and cellular repair and regeneration, based on a 24-hour cycle. So when we disrupt that by working the night shift, we disrupt some of the very processes we depend upon to stay healthy, happy, productive, and focused.
The health cost of working nights
Research shows that disrupted sleep cycles contribute to
Obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
Decreased immune function
Impaired brain function, decreased reaction time, impaired memory and emotional control. Early cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s
“Okay, okay, but I have to work nights, so what should I do?”
Here are some tips to optimize your sleep to decrease your risk of the above consequences.
Certainly the best option is to avoid working nights but that’s not realistic for everyone and certain professions. So if you must work nights, you’re better off consistently working the night shift, opposed to working days and nights on a rotating schedule.
Tip #1: Get yourself into a 24-hour cycle. How to do that? Manipulate your light exposure.
Red wavelengths = increased melatonin = sleepy time.
Low temperature light that falls in the red-orange-yellow spectrum, such as candlelight or fire light, does not affect melatonin production.
Blue wavelengths = decreased melatonin = awake and alert.
The sun, TV, computer screens, cell phones, digital clocks with blue numbers, e-readers and energy-efficient LED and fluorescent light bulbs all contribute blue light.
When you finish work in the morning
Tip #2: Don’t blast your eyeballs with more bright artificial lights by looking at your phone, watching TV or getting on the computer. If you must, install the “night mode” on your smart devices or download a free software program called f.lux to automatically adjust your screen light. Set a timer to only allow a small amount of time on your electronics then switch to a book to read.
Tip #3: Put on your blue-blocking glasses before you walk outside in the sun. These are glasses with yellow lenses that filter out blue light. Or you can wear sunglasses with yellow lenses that wrap around the sides of your eyes like goggles. Or just get some goggles.
Tip #4: Avoid LED lights as much as possible.
Doing these things will help the production of melatonin.
Think of your bedroom as a cave; it should be quiet, cool, and dark.
Tip #5: Make your bedroom pitch black.
Install blackout drapes
Close your bedroom door if light comes through it; if light seeps in underneath your door, put a towel along the base
Get rid of your electric clock radio, or at least block its light while you’re sleeping
Avoid night lights of any kind. If you must have a night light, use a red bulb.
Keep all light sources off, even if you get up to go to the bathroom, including your computer and TV. I have a small Himalayan sea salt lamp on my bedside table. I flip that on if I need it at night.
Avoid any sources of electromagnetic radiation, such as all electrically driven appliances in your bedroom, especially when connected to the AC-operated main electricity. Electrical transformers, Wi-Fi controlled light bulbs and smartphones produce dirty electricity and dirty electromagnetic radiation, which interferes with melatonin production. I put my phone in airplane mode when I sleep.
Tip #6: Make your room cold. The suggested bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit or 15.5 and 19.5 degrees Celsius for optimal sleep.
Tip #7: Invest in a noise-canceling sound machine or use a smartphone App to play ocean or rain sounds as you fall asleep. I use my noisy fan at home or when I’m traveling. I like the App “White Noise.” In our hunter gatherer days distracting noises were supposed to wake us up for safety reasons, like not getting eaten by a lion.
When you wake up
Tip #8: If you must use an alarm, opt for nature sounds rather than a blaring beep. Loud, jarring alarms disrupt your natural sleep cycles and lead to sleep deprivation.
Tip #9: Take a warm shower to help stimulate the central nervous system and naturally get the blood circulating.
Tip #10: Open the curtains immediately and let sunlight in. Take advantage of the sunlight as much as possible before it goes down. I walk out on my porch to let the sunshine hit my face. Read this article for a lot of great gadgets to help mimic the rise and setting of the sun:https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cnet.com/google-amp/news/light-alarm-clock-wake-up-to-light/
Why is light so important when waking? Light is registered first through the retina; the signal travels through the optic nerve to other regions of the brain, activating the release of serotonin. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase within the first 30 minutes of waking. This morning cortisol influx is a desirable genetic mechanism that prepares us for the energy demands of a busy day.
Other ways to minimize risks associated with night shift work
Tip #11: Get your vitamin D levels checked. Since night shift work largely prevents the sun exposure needed for vitamin D production, measure your vitamin D and maintain a healthy level of 40 to 70 ng/ml by trying to get sun exposure during the day, or with an oral vitamin D3 supplement along with vitamin K2.
Tip #12: On your days off, strive for somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 3p.m. Expose your skin just long enough to get a slight tan.
Tip #13: Pay attention to other strategies that promote mitochondrial health. Such as: become fat adapted, fasting, exercise, and nutritional supplements like coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, D-ribose, magnesium, animal-based omega-3, B vitamins and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). Being fat adapted has helped me out tremendously as I can get through most of my shift still having energy, not crashing and not moody. I feel great and energized because my body is using my own stored fat for fuel and not looking for sugar all the time.
Tip #14: Avoid sleeping pills as much as possible, as the side effects may cause more harm than good. Alternatives include Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), listening to a brainwave synchronization tapes, and trying a natural remedy that can help you relax. I use guided meditation and Yoga Nidra on YouTube. I also use essential oils like lavender to spray on my bed before going to sleep.
Tip #15: Take a nap. If I am able to step away at work I will usually go to my car, turn the air on and close my eyes with either a guided meditation playing or some kind of White Noise App playing. Naps are a wonderful way to recharge your brain.
I encourage you to implement some of these tips tonight, as high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in your health and quality of life. It also affects the lives of our family members, especially for us healthcare workers.
Coaching programs available at https://herestoyourhealthbyjamie.com/
Article by JAMIE NOTHSTINE
April 30, 2020
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