Saturday, 12 December 2015

Night Shifts....

For several years now I've had to do night shifts, it isn't something I ever wanted to do as I understand it is simply not good for your health. (neither is sat in a chair for almost 12 hours a day or night either) but in this industry it is common and in my case it is part of the job so overall it seems to be the best choice. Can't always get everything so just picking and choosing what's important.

If you have to do night shifts here is how you can be better prepared and avoid some issues that I've faced in past experience.

When I first started I had trouble even remembering things, to the point that I'd forget stuff within minutes. I had problems remaining awake even with adequate sleep to the point that I had my head on the desk struggling and the desire to sleep was overpowering. Those things can and have lead to silly, unnecessary mistakes.

I was told early on "drink lots of coffee :)" and of course sleep enough in the day. Firstly I tried this several times (some tea and or coffee) then I was so tired one shift I decided it may be a good idea to eat raw instant coffee, that just tasted bad and this has limited effectiveness. One colleague told me over a beer that scientific studies comparing tea, coffee and sugar intake for tests to remain awake for long periods overall proved sugar is the most effective way to keep yourself awake. Tea/Coffee although having a half life of 6 hours (subject to types,volume etc) is only initially suppressing sleep as it is binding to receptors within the brain which ordinarily are done by the chemical adenosine which would be binding to neurons reducing activity making you feel drowsy. After the caffeine wears off those chemicals are still present  and with this increasing the firing rate of neurons activity may over time prove to be less effective. Long story short having sugar seems the most effective way to remain awake is this is your brain and bodies main fuel source, glycogen used as energy. If you have sugar in various forms it only stimulates you to help remain active. If you keep putting in fuel the engine still runs. I found it hard to believe at first as it meant I was wrong for a few years and its commonly showed even on TV, we need to stay awake so drink coffee... one episode from Star gate SG-1 springs to mind... When I've tried sugar instead I've kept awake easier and much longer with even less sleep prior. (was still a wreck though)

The sleep part is the vast majority of people have sleep cycles which are 90 mins but can range from 70-120 mins which is less common. Waking on an aligned sleep cycle is essential for the entire day. Being woken up mid cycle your just zombified and it doesn't go away sometimes no matter what you try. So most cases you want 4-6 of these cycles and wake right at the waking stages to feel much more awake that will last the entire day.

A key useful thing here that helps either in day or night if you are able is drink a tea or coffee then have a nap which ranges from a minimum 5 minutes up to a maximum of 20 mins. so 5,10,15,20 as a target. This way while you digest and process the effects of some caffeine you have reduced the amount of adenosine residing in your brain just after then the caffeine can kick in. Also a good time  to do this is in the middle of your waking hours (so midday or midnightish). That may look contradictory to the previous statement about sugar and tea/coffee but the point is to make some tests personally and find what works, so the thing here is to have and rely on less amount of caffeine and primarily increase sugar intake if you need to. The more coffee/tea you drink on a daily basis the lesser the effects are which is why you want to have it when it is required.

Get an alarm such as the natural Phillips wake-up light, I saw this first on gadget show and it uses natural simulated light to wake you up that gradually increases in luminosity which is much more preferable to loud beeping, repetitive alarms. and always force yourself to wake on the alarm and not snooze it! That conditions your brain to not react to this and you go back into a sleeping state making it harder to subsequently awake. I always have the primary wake up light alarm, and then a backup alarm in case for any reason it does not go off. Best alarm I've ever used. If you time this right you should just wake up properly, if it is hard to get out of bed this implies the sleep cycles you set haven't aliened up right.

This other point was useful brought to my attention too: buy a blackout blind. That helped as during the day this completely stops any sunlight getting through and are relatively cheap and easy to install. For me it helped a bit, other people who invested in it said it made a great difference. We as people having seen sunlight naturally causes us to awake by us having chemical reactions take place in the brain, likewise when it gets dark and we see this we again react to make ourselves feel more tired/sleepy. Even if your in bed eyes shut some light shining inside will have effects which is why you want to limit it or cut it off outright as you can still detect it to some degree.

Key pointed summary.

  • Have some caffeine if needed, but primarily you want more sugar.
  • Buy and use a blackout blind to cut off sunlight when sleeping in the day
  • Get a naturally sun simulated wake up alarm, wake on first alarming!
  • Drink a tea/coffee then nap of 5-20 mins as temp. boost. 
  • Target and align for 4-6 of 90 min sleep cycles and wake on lightest sleep state.
  • Experiment to find what works and make minor adjustments, gradually.

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