In the first and second article in our sleep series, we covered the importance of sleep in our always-on modern work culture, followed by some strategies to manage sleep better when you’re working a night shift. In this final piece, we will examine some ways to stay sharp, energetic and productive at work, irrespective of the time of day (or night, in this case).
To recap what we said earlier, experts believe that our circadian rhythm (natural waking and sleeping pattern) can be ‘flipped’ for shift timings, enabling us to work just as efficiently during nights. However, to do this, we need to take extra good care of our bodies, both while resting and working. Here are some ways to ensure your work habits enable you to perform at your best once you walk inside the doors of the office.
Be mindful of how you’ve been feeling: In the previous articles, we looked at some ways to get adequate sleep before the shift, including the concept of ‘anchor sleep’. When you start your shift, make sure you’re well rested and not suffering signs of persistent sleep deprivation—which range from irritability to headaches, low energy, frequent coughs and colds etc. If you’ve recently started working in a night shift, some of these symptoms might be common, and are likely to go away in 1-2 weeks once you get used to the new schedule. However, if these issues hamper your feeling of well-being at work a few weeks into the job, you might need to take certain precautions, or seek an expert’s help.
Eat right: When it comes to food, common sense is your best guide. Doctors advise against overeating, which can contribute to acidity or lethargy (and hence low productivity). Aerated drinks, spicy or oily snacks, and processed food in general should be avoided. Assuming you’ve had a meal before starting your shift (the equivalent of your “lunch”), have a light dinner in the middle of your work shift, which has healthy grains, vegetables, proteins and fats. You generally can’t go wrong with simple, traditional, fresh and local foods.
While coffee is fine at the beginning of your shift, doctors recommend you have your last cup of coffee 5-6 hours before you go to bed, and your last meal 2-3 hours before.
Naps may help: The US National Sleep Foundation recommends taking short naps of 15-20 minutes during breaks at work, if the employer allows. It says these naps can help increase productivity and cut down on workplace injuries. The nap might leave you groggy, but this can be remedied by doing some stretches or taking a short walk around the premises to get your brain back on track.
Don’t exercise at night: Although some workplaces may have gyms or exercise equipment, Dr Vijaya Krishnan, Founder Secretary of the Indian Association of Surgeons for Sleep Apnoea (IASSA) says exercising at night is not recommended. Exercise should ideally be restricted to about 30 minutes of activity in the daytime hours, well before one starts the shift.
Visual and auditory stimulation: The presence of light, especially bright ones, tells our body to be alert and awake. But as your shift comes to an end, you want to decrease that stimulation, whether it is bright lights from screens and office or desk lights. If you’re worried about daylight or ambient light jolting you awake on breaks, or after you leave your office, wear dark glasses. And if you’re in a vehicle, resist the temptation to work on your laptop or phone. Keep the interiors dim and quiet so that your body relaxes and secretes the melatonin it needs to go to sleep.
Sleep science is making rapid progress, and scientists and doctors today have more insights into how sleep affects our well-being and productivity. But much of it comes down to the basics: treat yourself right, give your body time to adjust, and if needed, seek help without hesitation.
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