The Shift Workers’ Guide to Better Sleep

Until I was already in my 30s, most of my career hours consisted of the usual “bankers’ hours,” in which I had evenings and most weekends off. Following my heart to a new career in 911 dispatch led to job and personal fulfillment, but it also led to shift work - a job that does not sleep and unfortunately, depending on my shift, I wasn’t getting much sleep either. My first shift rotation on graveyards was a nightmare. I was tired all the time, grouchy with my then boyfriend (now husband - bless his heart), depressed, experienced weight gain, you name it. After years of rotating shifts and having to work night shift, it is still not my favorite but I have learned to live with it. I’ve also learned some tips and tricks to make it better that I will share with you to hopefully lead to restful, fulfilling sleep and a healthier life all around. 
  1. Blackout curtains: these are a non-negotiable. The difference they make when trying to get to (and stay) asleep is immense. They don’t have to be expensive., fancy, or high dollar. I was extremely lucky to find mine at a local yard sale, but I’ve also found some great looking and functional ones at Tuesday Morning, Ross, and Burlington Coat Factory for budget friendly prices. The only downside is trying to find the right size and matching panels can get pretty tricky in store. Check out these from Amazon as well - inexpensive, great reviews, and I promise, will make all the difference if you are not already using blackout curtains. Side note: many blackout curtains are also thermal and energy efficient, so bonus!
  2. Magnesium: this is something I’ve only recently learned about - thanks to my mom, but have no idea how its not better known! There are magnesium supplements that come as teas, chewable tablets, pills to swallow - pretty much a method for everyone. I tried some cherry flavored chewable tablets that I found on sale because I didn’t know how much stock I put in their power. I was so impressed and surprised the first time I tried them! I chewed two tablets, a little chalky but not bad, and within 10 minutes, I felt so relaxed and calm. For those of us that work in a sometimes high adrenaline career field (law enforcement, dispatch, nursing, firefighter, paramedic, etc), it can be difficult to unwind at the end of a shift. The magnesium supplement is an all natural and super effective way to do just that. Calms, relaxes my mind and body, so I feel ready to rest and sleep. My parents both love and swear by the Calm brand of gummies and teas. As mentioned, I take two chewable tablets of 200mg each.
  3. Cut yourself off from the coffee, tea, even water after a certain time. The caffeinated drinks will keep you awake longer, obviously, but they are also diuretics which means they will keep you awake with a constant reminder from your bladder. Water or any other liquid beverage will do the same so try to cut yourself off at least 2 hours before the end of your shift.
  4. White noise: Even night sleepers sometimes swear by this, but for day shifters specifically, it can be an excellent way to drown out the inherent sounds of the rest of the world functioning when you are trying to sleep. Car doors opening or closing, honking horns or car alarms, lawnmowers or landscapers, you name it - white noise can help eliminate those sounds and lull you to sleep.  
  5. Give yourself permission to sleep!! This one was a biggie for me, especially on weekends when everyone else I know and all the people with “normal hours” were out and about, doing fun weekend and family things. It took me quite a while to be ok with silencing my phone, ignoring notifications, etc. but everyone else sleeps when you are working - you need the same sleep and its imperative to your well being that you allow yourself to do so. This goes for family and friends as well. I am fortunate enough to have a husband who worked shift work for a very long time so he gets it, but sometimes still needs a gentle reminder that I’m not getting enough sleep or that I need to sleep a little longer. If you need to explain it to your family and friends, do so gently but assertively, and do not feel guilty about needing sleep.


3 comments:

  1. Wow! You are brave. I don't know if I'd survive working night shifts, but great tips if I ever have to. I can say I have 'worked' the night shift being a mum, I remember my doctor recommending magnesium to help with the fatigue from lack of sleep when the little ones were keeping me awake all night... and yes, Magnesium worked wonders :) Great tips :)

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  2. Really interesting about the magnesium supplements. I guess you could always up your intake of super foods like chocolate and spinach for this as well!

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  3. I love this! More importantly, I love that you followed your dream and are helping others do the same!

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