How Night Shift Impacts Circadian Rhythm + 11 Ways to Cope

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If you work the night shift, your circadian rhythm can be negatively impacted. Don’t worry — there are ways to cope. Making others aware of your daytime sleep and nighttime work schedules, eating meals at consistent times, and limiting blue light exposure before bed are all helpful.

Circadian rhythm refers to humans’, animals’, and other organisms’ natural internal clock that guides the sleep-wake cycle and other biological processes. 

Located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, this biological clock operates on a 24-hour schedule, responding to the earth’s natural light-dark cycle.

Not sleeping during typical hours can disrupt that internal circadian clock and impact your whole-body health and overall quality of life. Learn more about Health Optimization here.

Typical night shift jobs include medical professionals, truck drivers, police officers, emergency responders, bartenders, and air traffic controllers. Up to 10% of Americans work the night shift. Coping with disrupted circadian rhythm is vital for these workers to maintain their health.

Below, we’ll go over the common health effects of disrupted circadian rhythm, as well as 11 coping techniques to correct your whole-body health when working the night shift or on a rotating schedule.

PrimeHealth is an integrative clinic in Denver, Colorado, which helps people like you overcome rare and hidden root causes of chronic health conditions. Schedule your free consultation today!

Health Effects of Disrupted Circadian Rhythms

Working the night shift typically leads to disrupted circadian rhythms, but it’s not the only cause of sleep disorders. Whatever the root cause, poor sleep quality or not enough sleep can lead to all sorts of negative outcomes.

Here are the most common health effects of disrupted circadian rhythms, especially due to working the night shift:

Is “graveyard shift disorder” real? Graveyard shift disorder (AKA night shift work disorder) refers to a real phenomenon where night shift workers experience negative effects of shift work and a dysfunctional circadian system. 

These negative effects lead to physical and mental health issues, including drowsiness, a higher risk of heart problems, and cognitive impairment.

How does the night shift affect sleep? The night shift affects sleep by rewiring your internal circadian rhythm, disrupting your body’s natural biological processes, including sleep quality and duration. There are multiple ways to cope with a night shift-disrupted circadian rhythm.

1. Get Enough Sleep

Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep every 24 hours to keep your body and mind in top shape. Try to sleep at the same time every night, and practice good sleep hygiene.

Don’t shortchange yourself. Schedule the time you need to get a proper amount of sleep. Let your loved ones know when you’re going to be asleep. If you really can’t get enough hours of sleep at once, consider napping to make up those lost hours.

How do I fix my circadian rhythm after a night shift? You can fix your circadian rhythm after night shift work by getting 7-9 hours of consistent, high-quality sleep every day in a dark, quiet room. It may not be easy, but you need to reset your natural body clock to avoid health problems.

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2. Notify Others of Your Schedule

So your sleep won’t be interrupted, notify others of your working and sleeping hours. Family, friends, neighbors, and even coworkers need to know when not to disturb you. You can also turn your phone on “Do not disturb” mode.

This way, you can get the uninterrupted slumber your body so desperately needs. No calls from your bestie, no knocks on the door from a loved one. If this feels selfish, just remember that day workers probably don’t understand your situation unless you explain it to them.

3. Limit Blue Light Exposure

Blue light exposure has been shown to reduce our sleep quality, especially right before bedtime. Blue light comes from screens (TV, phone, computer) and tricks your brain into thinking it’s sunlight, disrupting your circadian rhythm.

If you are exposed to blue light at night, use high-quality blue-light blocking glasses, like those from Bon Charge. Use code PRIMEHEALTH for 15% off.

Symptoms of blue light sensitivity and overexposure include:

  • Strained eyes
  • Retina damage
  • Blurred vision
  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Migraine
  • Insomnia
  • Lower-quality sleep

Try to keep bright light exposure to waking hours. One hour before you go to sleep, turn off your TV, put away your phone, and don’t surf the web. Instead, you could read a book, meditate, fill out that paperwork you’ve been putting off, clean dishes, meal prep for the next day, etc.

4. Keep Your Room Dark

Block out all light from the room you sleep in. Unfortunately, you need to actually trick your body into thinking the sun is not up. Night shift workers get the best sleep if sunlight is blocked from their bedroom.

If necessary, invest in blackout curtains or a comfortable eye mask. Use code PRIMEHEALTH for 15% off.

5. Keep Your Room Quiet

Nighttime is generally quieter than daytime. Night shift workers need to put in extra effort to sleep in quiet solitude. You may have to tell your family or roommates to keep it quiet during your sleep hours.

Noise decreases your sleep quality — which is different than your sleep duration. White noise machines or sleep noise apps can block out distracting noises from outside your bedroom, but no noise is ideal.

Buy earplugs if you have to.

6. Take a Nap

Napping can help make up for those days you didn’t quite reach 7-9 hours of sleep. If you nap for just 30-45 minutes, you could be in a better mood, feel more alert, and stave off the consequences of sleep debt.

Sleep debt, or sleep deficit, refers to the cumulative number of hours of sleep that we don’t get when we should. If you only slept 6 hours one night and 5 the next, you’ve already racked up at least 3 hours of sleep debt. Sleep debt can lead to increased risk of:

  • Immune dysfunction
  • Brain fog
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Low libido
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

Naps are a great way to rest and reenergize while working off your sleep debt.

7. Keep Your Room Cool

It’s easier to sleep when your bedroom is set at a cool, comfortable temperature. Melatonin is a hormone that helps us go to sleep. It is produced in and released by the pineal gland as the body goes from warm to cool.

In our experience, melatonin also helps our patients with anxiety that may be contributing to insomnia.

Read More: Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Avoid getting hot before bedtime, and don’t let your room get too hot, even during the winter. A slightly lower body temperature tricks your circadian clock into thinking it’s nighttime, helping night shift workers sleep better.

Using a pad on your bed that cools the temperature while you’re sleeping can cause dramatic improvements in sleep quality. I have had patients tell me that after using something to cool their mattress, their deep sleep duration was longer, causing them to feel much more rested in the morning. 

Chilipad is one option in how you can cool your mattress at night. Use code PHD15 for 15% off a Chilipad or PDH25 for 25% off an Ooler at checkout. 

8. Avoid Exercise Right Before Bedtime

Don’t engage in physical exercise within a few hours of sleeping. This may be difficult if your evening shift job is labor intensive.

Generally, it’s best to go to bed as soon as you can after your night shift. But if your night shift job is physically strenuous, it may be ideal for you to take an extra couple of hours to wind down and cool off after work before you go to bed.

Getting in your exercise right before bedtime reduces your sleep quality, but so does overheating in other ways. Stress, non-functioning air conditioning, eating really hot food right before bed, and even being out in the sun, can all discourage your body from naturally going to sleep.

Read More: 12 Vitamins For Stress

9. Eat at the Right Time

Not only should you sleep at consistent times, but you should eat meals at consistent times throughout the day and night.

Recent studies show that night and early morning shift workers who eat on a schedule exhibit fewer depression and anxiety symptoms, contributing to higher sleep quality.

Read More: CBD for Anxiety

10. Avoid Stimulants Before Bedtime

Stimulants increase your energy and disrupt your sleep quality, leaving you less recharged even after sleeping. Caffeine, nicotine, and many illegal drugs are stimulants. Medications for ADHD and narcolepsy are also stimulants you should avoid before bed. Talk with your doctor about the proper time to take your meds.

Read More: Does Microdosing Work?

Caffeine is often consumed in the morning to cope with a previous day’s poor sleep, especially if you work the night or morning shift. But you should not drink caffeine, a stimulant, within 8 hours of going to bed, or it will lead to future nights of poor sleep health.

Sources of caffeine include:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • True tea (black, green, and oolong)
  • Most sodas
  • Energy drinks
  • Espresso
  • Yerba mate
  • Some medications
  • Some supplements

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bedtime

Avoid alcohol before you go to sleep, even though it is a depressant.

Night shift workers may be tempted to have a nightcap before bedtime. While alcohol tends to increase sleepy feelings, it decreases your ability to actually go to sleep.

Studies show that alcohol disrupts circadian rhythm independently of night shift work. If you’re trying to reset your circadian rhythm, cutting out alcohol is a great place to start.

You’re Not Alone

An estimated 6-15 million Americans work the night shift. Even day shift workers often don’t get enough sleep. You’re not alone, but you don’t have to be unhealthy under those circumstances.

Rotating shifts and night shift work schedules can lead to unhealthy, inconsistent sleep patterns that result in a greater risk of mental health disorders, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and more.

There are ways to cope with night shift-disrupted circadian rhythm. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet when you’re sleeping, and make sure others understand your work and sleep schedules so they don’t interrupt your much-needed sleep. Take naps, and avoid stimulants before bedtime.

If you need a whole-body health expert to help you get better sleep, schedule a free phone consultation with PrimeHealth in Denver, Colorado.


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