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Night shifts are a regular occurrence for many workers, and require a very specific approach to avoid negatively impacting on sleep quality. The environmental conditions of the day and night, and how the body is wired to respond to them, mean that working a night shift can be extremely disruptive. However, with some careful planning of your surroundings and consideration of your body's needs, night shifts needn't mean that you can't achieve good quality sleep.
One of the most effective ways for shift workers to sleep during the day is by replicating the night-time environment as closely as possible, particularly with regards to light and noise.
Minimising light is a fairly straight-forward process, and can be managed with blackout blinds and curtains. An eye mask is a cheap and effective alternative, but be sure to invest in one that fits comfortably.
Blocking out noise can be a trickier proposition. Depending on where you live, the daytime can be surprising noisy - especially when you're trying to sleep. Street noise, the movements of other people in the house or building and even birdsong are all sounds that you wouldn't particularly notice on a normal day, but become excessively intrusive when you're trying to sleep after a night shift. Wearing ear plugs and closing windows are often all it takes to minimise noise, but in some cases - for instance in a bustling city or within close proximity to a busy road - you may need a more advanced solution. Noise-cancelling headphones are an increasingly affordable and effective technology, and white noise generators are commonly employed in frequently noisy environments to drown out sound and create a steady, consistent aural atmosphere.
By shutting out light and noise you're helping to limit the daytime signals going to your body, reducing your chances of feeling energised and alert.
Try to replicate your normal mealtimes during the night shift as closely as possible, with a breakfast, lunch and dinner. This will ensure that you've got sufficient levels of energy to expend during the working hours, and that you won't be disturbed by digestion when you do go to sleep. Avoid particularly heavy meals last thing, in much the same way as you would with a normal daytime routine.
Treating the night shift in the same way you would the day is another good way of controlling the signals that your body responds to. Just as you wouldn't expect to get good sleep after an evening spent looking a bright computer monitor, TV or smartphone, you shouldn't expect to do the same when on night shift. Reduce exposure to particularly stimulating entertainment in the hours before you're planning on going to sleep, and your brain will be prepared to wind down and relax.
Your body is built to be alert and active during the day, and to relax into sleep at night. By making your best efforts to mimic the night-time environment you can help to minimise the potential disruption that night shifts can cause to your body clock, work to a productive level and get good quality, restorative sleep.