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These changes can help your night shift workers
How can you aid shift workers to help their body clock adjust to the night shift? The answer depends on the individual worker and the type of shift work being done, according to Mark Smith, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at Rush University Biological Rhythms Research Lab in Chicago.
Different things are recommended for workers with regular nighttime schedules, rapidly rotating shifts, and slowly rotating shifts, explains Smith.
For a person working a "regular night shift" with several night shifts every week, Smith recommends:
Exposing workers to bright light from a light box during the night shift.
Smith says this bright light doesn't have to be continuous, but that exposure for periods of time before 4 a.m. is optimal for producing the partial adjustment to the night shift schedule that is desired.
Instructing workers to wear sunglasses during the commute home after a night shift.
Smith notes that there is currently some debate as to whether sunglasses are potentially dangerous for workers who are driving themselves, however.
Telling workers that daytime sleep after night shifts should occur as soon as possible and should be in a dark bedroom.
"It's also important to sleep as late as possible on days off," says Smith.
Smith says that you could either disseminate these instructions to all the night shift workers at your company or give it more selectively to workers who seek out answers because of shift work-related problems, such as inability to sleep during the daytime.
If an employee is only working an occasional night shift, however, Smith says that the above interventions wouldn't have any benefits, because adjustment to the night shift takes at least several days.
For regular and rotating night workers, selective use of caffeine early in a night shift has been shown to help alertness, says Smith. However, caffeine should be avoided late in the night shift because it can interfere with daytime sleep quality, he says. "Short naps before and during night shifts can be useful for reducing sleepiness during night shifts," says Smith. "Longer naps should be avoided because they can lead to grogginess upon awakening."