"I work from 6 pm to 2 am and very often by 10:30pm I start feeling very drowsy. I have to struggle to stay awake after that. I find that I make careless mistakes and my productivity decreases."
Humans are diurnal beings as compared to nocturnal creatures like owls. What that means is that we are designed to be alert and active during the day and sleep at night. However with the demand for work during the non-traditional hours going up, more and more people are required to be alert and work at night and sleep during the day. This can lead to lethargy and drowsiness at work which affects productivity.
Research shows that people typically experience two dips in alertness. The first smaller dip happens usually after 3.00 pm and the second bigger dip happens between 3.00 am and 5.00 am. If we pay attention to our alertness we can figure out the times of the day when our alertness dips the most as it can vary from person to person. Once we know when we are the most lethargic and drowsy, we can take steps to increase our alertness at those times.
First thing we need to do to have good alertness is to have 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every day
As this sleep is possible only during the day, we must ensure that we get the necessary privacy to sleep without being interrupted. Using heavy curtains to block out day light and ear plugs to block out noises can help. The article ‘Battle for Daytime Sleep' covers this topic in greater detail.
The second important factor that will help maintaining alertness is a healthy diet
It is important that every one eats healthy but more so if we are working at nights. Regular light meals promote alertness as compared to a single heavy meal which can cause drowsiness. Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and proteins like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, bread, salad, fruits, vegetables and milk products help alertness. Fatty and food that is heavy to digest often promote drowsiness and should be avoided.
Chocolates and other food high in sugar, though boosts alertness temporarily, leads to a dip in alertness shortly afterwards which outweighs its advantages. Drinking plenty of water is considered beneficial.
People often turn to caffeine in coffee, tea and cola to help them stay alert. Caffeine is a mild stimulant but it leads to tolerance which means that more of caffeine will be required to reach the desired level of alertness. Caffeinated drinks should be had in moderation and never as an aid to alertness.
Research has shown that a person who is fit physically is able to stay alert for longer periods of time. Exercise is a tool that helps greatly in our goal towards physical fitness. Exercise should be had ideally after the longest sleep. 45 - 60 minutes of exercise 6 times a week has been proved to be most beneficial. Exercise does not mean working out at a gym exclusively, it can also include, brisk walking, swimming, and/or playing group games like basketball and volleyball. Exercise promotes well-being which greatly improves alertness.
During the shift, if you feel drowsy, taking short breaks and walking around during the breaks can help. Keeping the more mentally stimulating work towards periods of drowsiness can also increase alertness.
Staying alert all night long and during the early morning hours is a challenge and following the above suggestions can help in increasing your alertness.