Shift work and sleep

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We doomed ourselves to increased risks of heart disease, peptic ulcer disease, and cancer when we chose to train in medicine . The culprit? Shift work. The proposed mechanism involves a disruption of the circadian rhythm, which in turn lowers serotonin levels. But do you really need a study to tell you that shift work is disrupting your sleep?

I’ve been working the ER night shift out of my own family’s necessity for the last 11 years. My husband can tell you that I am a world champion sleeper. I can fall asleep for a two hour nap pretty much at any time. If I was a Superhero, my name would be Sleep Girl. Yet after 11 years of this, I’m starting to feel the strain. I’m starting to feel pulled apart at the edges a little bit. Worn thin. Like Frodo trying to carry the ring to Mordor. It used to take a day to recover from the night shift effects. Now it takes one and a half to two days.I am feeling what the studies are proving. Shift work affects your longevity.

The same may not be true of working alternating day/evening shifts (to my ER colleagues, you’re welcome), but even you non-night shift folks still don’t get the amount of sleep that you should be getting. Your shift that ends at 11 rarely ends at 11. You end up getting home closer to 1AM. If there are little kids at home that need to get on the bus or wake up at the crack of dawn, the 8 hour sleep ideal is gone. Poof! Just like that. Your office hours may be done at 6, but you have 2 hours of documentation after dinner time. Next thing you know, it’s 11PM and you have to be up at 5AM. Again, Poof! 8 hour sleep, gone.

So what can you do to help in the face of sleep adversity? You need to protect your sleep at all costs!
Here are some tips so that at least when you’re in bed, you are less likely to get disrupted:
-Unless you’re on call, place your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and turn off all of the ringers in the house. Put your emergency contacts as your favorites. They should know that they’re only to disturb you in a true emergency. Everything else can wait.
-Invest in blackout shades and dark curtains in the room of your choice. Otherwise the light coming in will trigger premature awakening, especially in the summer. Make a “sleep cave.” Sleep in as often as possible. Try to avoid volunteering to carpool for early morning weekend soccer games.
-Wear earplugs. I can’t wear the foam ones because I’m a side sleeper and they hurt my ears. I take the silicone ones and split them into smaller globs so that they fit inside my canal and don’t go too far outside. They block the sound really well.
-Avoid caffeine later in the day.
-Avoid screens or bright lights half an hour prior to bedtime.
-Get your significant other to take care of the morning things so that you can sleep. Bribery sometimes works.
Studies on shift workers:
Goodnight moon!