Are you among the millions of night-shift workers in America's workplaces? Do you work when most people are asleep and try to sleep when the rest of the world is awake? Do you get enough sleep? If you're like many night-shift workers, the answer to this last question is no. Overall, nighttime workers (those who work between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.) get less sleep than daytime workers do, and the sleep is less restful. Did you know that 10% to 20% of night-shift workers report falling asleep on the job-usually during the second half of the shift?
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Getting ready for successful shut-eye
You can take several steps to successfully fall asleep and stay asleep when you need to (see Tips for successful shut-eye). The key is to make sleep a priority!! Set the stage for sleep even when it's broad daylight outside. Prepare your body and mind for sleep. Wear wraparound dark glasses on your way home from work to keep morning sunlight from activating your internal daytime clock. Follow bedtime rituals and try to keep a regular sleep schedule, even on weekends. Go to sleep as soon as possible after work.
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At home, ask family and friends to help create a quiet and peaceful setting during your sleep time. Have them wear headphones while listening to music or watching TV. Ban vacuuming, dish washing, and noisy games during your sleep time. Put a "do not disturb" sign on the front door so that delivery people and friends won't knock or ring the doorbell. Schedule household repairs for when you wake up.
When you're working night shifts, trying to maintain family relationships and social and community ties is difficult. The need to sleep during the day means that you often miss family activities, entertainment, and other social interactions. Talk with family and friends about your concerns and ask for their help in scheduling time with them.
Keeping a regular sleep schedule, even on days off and weekends, is important. However, if you can't get enough sleep or feel drowsy, try a short nap; even 20 minutes can be helpful. It can maintain or improve alertness, performance, and mood. Even if you feel groggy or sleepier after a quick nap, those feelings usually pass within 15 minutes, but the benefits of the nap may last for many hours.
Taking sleeping pills
Prescription sleep medications don't cure sleep problems, but they may be recommended for short-term use. Ask your health care provider whether this type of medication would help you, particularly for one or two sleep cycles after your schedule changes.
Seeking medical help
If you've tried some of these tips and your efforts to get enough sleep aren't working, consider seeking professional help. If problems persist, talk with your health care provider. She can help identify the cause and recommend how it could be treated or managed; evaluate your sleep problem; and determine whether you may have a sleep disorder that may require an expert's help.