Do you get back from work when most people around you are getting ready to start their day? Now it's your turn to sleep, but perhaps as you lie down you toss around for a long time, unable to fall asleep? Or you fall asleep only to be woken up by the doorbell, the phone or the sound of traffic?..
The fact is that daytime sleep tends to be of shorter duration than normal night sleep, it is often less restful and it is more prone to interruption.
Why Is Daytime Sleep Difficult?
There are several reasons. For one, your body has to fight its natural wake-sleep pattern. Human beings are diurnal (as opposed to nocturnal) creatures. We are designed to be awake in the day and asleep at night. Our body cycles are tuned to day-time cues like sunshine to keep us alert, while darkness prompts us to sleep. This makes it hard to stay awake at night and just as hard to fall asleep and stay asleep during the day.
Besides, the majority of people in our environment operate on a daytime schedule. They are awake when you are trying to sleep so their activities and the resultant noise is likely to disturb your sleep.
Does It Matter If You Cut Down On Sleep?
Many people who work night shifts try to run errands, catch up with friends or take care of children during the hours that should be used to sleep. You may feel more you are achieving more, but when sleep becomes a low priority you will not feel your best.
Sleep is what restores your brain and organs so that they function properly. When sleep deprived, people think and move more slowly, make more mistakes, and have difficulty remembering things. Lack of sleep is also associated with irritability, impatience, anxiety, and depression. These problems can upset job and family relationships, spoil social activities, and cause unnecessary suffering.
Getting enough quality sleep is one of the most serious challenges that shift workers face
Falling Asleep, Staying Asleep
There are several strategies that you can use to promote daytime sleep:
Establish a Achedule
Adopt a Pre Sleep Routine
Create a Night Time Atmosphere
Maintaining a regular routine for sleep is very important. Try different patterns of work and sleep to see which is best for you, and then, as far as possible, go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Allow at least seven hours in bed. Even if you are unable to sleep, resting is still beneficial for the body.
Take a warm bath, wear comfortable nightclothes, read or watch TV (nothing too exciting!), listen to music, drink a glass of warm milk, whatever makes you feel relaxed. These serve as cues for your body that it's time to sleep.
Try To Fool Your Body Into Thinking It Is Night
Make the room as dark as possible. This is really important because when bright light hits the retina, this immediately inhibits production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Dark, thick curtains, (or a double layer), black chart paper or aluminium foil fixed to windows would help block out sunlight. An eye-mask or soft cloth to cover your eyes could be used to block any remaining light. (Avoid being in bright daylight two to three hours before going to sleep. Wear sunglasses on your way home.)
Block out noise. The daytime hours are a lot noisier than nighttime hours. Choose the quietest spot in the house to sleep in, and work at ways to minimise household noise. One shiftworker invested in a set of headphones for family members to use when watching TV. The 'white noise' created by a fan or soft background music may also help to block out unavoidable noise like traffic or construction work. Use of soft ear-plugs is another option. These are usually available at sports shops.
The key is to MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY, MINIMISE EXTERNAL DISTURBANCES, AVOID INTERNAL DISTURBANCES, INVOLVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS IN YOUR PLANS,
WEEKLY OFFS, etc.
Work out strategies to deal with unwanted disturbances. Some methods that have worked for others include:
Set your mobile phone on silent mode and return calls after you wake up
Turn off the ringer on your landline - or keep the volume down and ask someone else to answer it
Put a notice on the front door to warn off salesmen and couriers
Disconnect the door bell (apparently it is possible to fix a switch to turn it on and off)
Put a fake lock on the front door so people will think you're not at home!
(Do plan a way for friends/relatives to contact you in an emergency.)
If you go to sleep on an empty stomach, hunger could cause you to wake up too soon. Eating a light meal before sleeping would take care of this. Don't drink too much liquid before going to bed or you may wake up to use the toilet.
Caffeine should be avoided for at least 3 to 5 hours before you try to go to sleep. Alcohol, though it is a CNS (Central Nervous System) depressant will not help you to sleep any better; it actually causes you to sleep lighter than you normally would. No smoking in bed or before bedtime. Nicotine is a stimulant! And your body craves it even when you are asleep, so you wake up more frequently.
Exercise raises body temperature and increases alertness, so it should not be done too close to bedtime. If you exercise at the workplace, do so at least three hours before you plan on going to bed. Otherwise, exercise after you wake up from sleep.
Once you have fixed a specific schedule to sleep, discuss this with your family and close friends. Explain the struggles you are facing, let them know when you plan to sleep and request them to avoid disturbing you during your sleep times. Many people fear that they will lose friends this way, but if you take the trouble to explain your reasons, the people who really matter to you are sure to understand. After all, you would not normally call some one at 3am, would you?
Do let them know when you will be available to take their calls, otherwise you may find yourself totally cut off! Make sure that you too take the initiative in calling them when you are free.
It would be ideal if you followed the same sleep pattern even during your weekly days off. However that isn't a workable solution for most night shift workers who would like to catch up on day-time activities with friends/family. Do organise your social life, particularly at weekends, so you still get adequate sleep. It would help if you could plan for at least one sleep period to coincide with your routine schedule - for instance an afternoon nap.
If you can't get enough sleep or feel drowsy, naps as short as 20 minutes can be helpful. Research indicates that naps (15-90 minutes) can maintain or improve alertness, performance, and mood and help overcome fatigue.
However, even these should be scheduled - random napping could interfere with your sleep/wake cycle. Some people feel groggy or sleepier after a nap. These feelings usually go away within 1-15 minutes, while the benefits of the nap may last for many hours. The evening or night worker can take a nap to be refreshed before work.
Pre-work naps can help you feel refreshed. Allow sufficient time to overcome sleep inertia (the slight grogginess you are likely to experience following a period of sleep) before you leave, and particularly before riding a vehicle.
It may seem strange to go to such lengths to do something as natural as sleeping - but those of you who have struggled with this will realise just how important it is.
Have a good day's sleep!
What works for you?
Have you discovered some strategies that have helped you sleep better? Do share them with us so others can benefit.