Sleep Health

How to sleep better during night shifts

If those graveyard hours have got you down, you are not alone. We get sleep experts to help you with the extra ‘zzz’s

It’s what new parents crave and teens do at all the wrong times (like in science class): sleep. It rests, rejuvenates body and mind, and gets you to put your best face forward the next day. While most of us take it for granted, for people who work the graveyard shift, sleep is a challenge.

We asked three people on the night shift what their main problems were, and then took it to the docs to ask for solutions. We consulted with Dr Nileena NKM, Psychiatrist and fellow in sleep medicine at Nithra Institute Of Sleep Sciences, Chennai; Dr M S Kanwar, senior consultant and adviser in sleep medicine and critical care at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi and Dr Meera Krishna, Gynaecologist, Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development, Coimbatore.

‘I load my body with tea and coffee’

Akila G, 25, is a systems engineer based in Hyderabad who works on a weekly rotational shift. “By the time I get adjusted to night duty, my shift changes. I load my body with tea and coffee to avoid dozing off in between my work.” Akila says that her eating habits are also erratic. “How can I cook when I am tired? I skip meals or end up ordering fast food. My menstrual cycle is irregular and I feel disoriented most of the time. It is like being permanently jet-lagged.”

How to sleep better during night shifts

Doc speak:

First, try to move once in every hour. If you can, incorporate exercise — walk up and down the stairs a few times, and ask a friend to join in.

Trick your body into believing that it is day. Keep your work cubicles well-lit and wear dark eye glasses on your way back home in the morning. Simply say no to coffee and tea four hours before going to bed. If you find that you need some caffeine, try green tea and then wean yourself off that gradually.

Consider hiring help to get the basic cooking done. Try and eat your meals the way you would on a regular day, except, you could push the meal time by an hour. Say you eat dinner by 9 pm on a non-night-shift day, push it to 10 pm. Thereafter, you could eat fruits and salads. Remember to stay hydrated. Stress too gets us to reach for unhealthy foods, so stay conscious of it.

Your mood has an important link to your menstrual cycle. Exercise and healthy food can also help regulate it.

Establish a sleep ritual when you get home, so that your body understands it’s time to sleep — drink a glass of warm milk, take a warm water shower.

Talk to your employer about making the shift once in a month. It gives time for the body to adjust to the timing and makes for increased productivity. Weekly shifts can have adverse effects on a person’s body.

“I cannot have a fixed time for sleep”

Saravanakumar R (47) has been a driver for the past 20 years in Chennai. “I can’t have a fixed time for sleep. It depends on the rides that I get.” Though he is happy that the roads are less crowded at night, the glare from the opposite vehicles causes him irritation in his eyes. “I sleep in my cab between two rides. If I feel tired while I drive, I also stop for a 15-minute nap.” He says that he miss the time with his family and friends. “My kids leave for school before I reach home in the morning. I wish I had a better social life.”

Walk it off Light exercise helps stay awake

Walk it off Light exercise helps stay awake  

Doc speak:

Sleeping is a healing process. Try and make yourself as comfortable as possible when sleeping the car. The idea is to stretch out the legs and use an eye mask to avoid the street light when you sleep in the cab. When you’re home from work, the house will probably come alive. Request that you not be woken up. If possible, try and get back a little earlier, so you can meet your children before they leave for school, maybe even dropping them at school. Small moments go a long way which children cherish.

“I lose my temper pretty easily on those days”

Binumol George (45) is a nurse based in Kottayam. She has three days of night shift once in two weeks. “Things were easy when I was younger and stayed in a hostel. Now, after the night shift, I have to go back home, prepare food for my family and send my children to school. My husband is not home most of the day.” Binumol says that she feels exhausted and also gets a strong headache by the third day. “It goes away only if I get a good long sleep. I lose my temper pretty easily on those days.”

Doc speak:

Sharing the workload is important in every family. Have a discussion with your partner and children about helping out, giving each person certain designated duties, no matter how small. Work-life balance is the balance between the self, family and work. Going without sleep and adequate rest can have emotional, mental and physical problems. A short temper is the result of overwork without rest. It can affect relationships. If a person does not get enough sleep it can eventually lead to abnormal blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 2:42:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/how-to-sleep-better-during-night-shifts/article26633504.ece

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