Working shifts can play havoc with your biological clock – till you reach a point where your body’s internal clock cannot decide when you should be awake and when you should sleep. Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to serious consequences – both in terms of your health, as well as your safety. Incidences of circadian misalignment is not healthy for you and has been associated with increased risk of developing cardiovascular, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders, some types of cancer and several mental disorders.
In order to maintain a balance between your shifts and your body’s requirements, it is imperative that you optimize your sleep cycle. There is no magic plan that is going to work for one and all; however, most sleep researchers agree that the following strategies will help you sleep well.
Gradual shifts to your sleep cycle
Making gradual shifts to your sleep cycle is probably the most successful way to tune your biological clock. Start by making 15 minute increments, allowing three to four nights to get comfortable with the new timings. As your body starts getting used to the new cycle, reduce the sleep time by another 15 minutes. You might feel groggy for about 20 to 30 minutes after waking up, but do not worry, that is perfectly normal.
Consistency is the key
If you wish to reset your biological clock, you need to be consistent with your sleep schedule for at least the entire week. It is very tempting to carry on sleeping during the weekend or on off work days. However, you should not sleep for more than an extra two hours – you might get less sleep time, but your biological clock will work better the next day.
Switch between darkness and light
Light and darkness influence our circadian rhythms and any changes to the cycle can upset our biological clock. Unfortunately, it’s 8 P.M., and still bright outside – close your curtains, darken the bedroom and go to sleep. There is no other way out of this one. When you wake up, it’s still dark outside – switch on all the lights and put the kettle on the boil.
Do not wait to fall asleep
If you have something on your mind, it will be very difficult to fall asleep. Instead of tossing and turning in the bed, get up, take a piece of paper and write it down. This may help you get it out of your mind and put you to sleep. If you still cannot fall asleep, do something boring or relaxing – both help in making you sleepy.
Drink water, not alcohol
Although you might be tempted to sneak a drink or two, hoping that it will relax you and put you to sleep – what alcohol actually does is disrupt your sleep later in the night. You will be far better off reaching for a glass of water or warm milk instead.
Shut out the world
Televisions, mobile phones, play stations – shut them all at least half an hour before you plan to hit the bed. Your sleep can be disrupted by both stress and stimulation. Allow yourself time to unwind, a bath is a great way to relax your mind and body.