How to Survive Shift Work

It was 6 p.m. I typically worked afternoon shift from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m, but had gone in at 6 p.m. that day. We were continually short-staffed, so I had volunteered to work over and cover night shift. From about 4 a.m. on, I was pretty useless. I wasn’t used to staying awake so late. As soon as the end of the shift rolled around, I was dragging. I got in my car and left, headed straight home to bed. On the way, I unintentionally blew through a red light. Not until someone had honked at me did I realize that it hadn’t actually been green. That scare woke me enough to get me home alert and safe, but it was a huge reminder of the importance of sleep and knowing your limitations.

Heading into work at 11 p.m., working for 10 hours, then leaving work at 9 a.m. and trying to wind down to fall asleep can oftentimes feel like an impossible feat; the sun is shining bright, everyone else is just starting their day, and you’ve been dealing with emergencies for the past 10 hours. It can be difficult to shut your brain off enough to even fall asleep.

Most shift workers have to come up with various ways to get enough shut eye; lack of it could result in serious injuries and oversights that could cost someone their life when it comes to emergency work. Our bodies function on a circadian rhythm; a 24 hour body clock that dips and rises based on external sources of variables like light and temperature. Night and darkness cause our body to produce melatonin, inducing sleepiness. Light signals our brain to raise our body temperature and induces alertness.

ClockA simple way to help cue our bodies into sleep when it’s 9 o’clock in the morning is to install black-out curtains wherever you sleep. Pin them to the walls so that not a single speck of sunlight glitters on the wall. When you walk into your room during your “night,” it will feel more like night because your sleeping space will be as black as night. Another simple step to induce sleep is to make your sleeping space cool or cold. Turn on a fan (or air conditioner, if you have it), to signal to your body that it is night and cool, which will, in turn, cue your body to lower its body temperature. It’s much easier to fall asleep when the room is cool than when it is hot.

Another sleep aid is meditation – especially in emergency services. Emergency workers deal with abused children, intoxicated people, uncooperative people, fights, etc, all night long. It can be difficult to stop the flow of thoughts; whether you finished that traffic report, whether you could have reacted differently on that domestic altercation, whether you have enough time to sleep and go see your child’s sporting event the next day before you go back in for another shift.

Meditation is a practice that allows you to quiet your mind. It is as simple as focusing on your breathing; if you feel your thoughts start to drift, gently bring it back to your breathing. It is almost as if you have no thoughts, just physical sensations. It will help relax your mind and, with practice, allows you to immediately detach from the relentless flow of thoughts as soon as you focus on your breath. Guided meditations can be a great first step into meditation if you are unsure of what to do. The phone app Headspace is a really great introductory tool.

There are other methods to sleep that can be useful if nothing else is working. You can always talk to your doctor about taking sleeping medication or melatonin. You can turn off electronics before going to bed; the blue screen on phones has been shown to decrease the ability to go to sleep. There are some apps that can change the screen to a “night” screen that has a red hue to it. You can also take naps throughout the day if you aren’t able to sleep in long stretches.

Regardless of what method you choose, the most important thing is to get enough sleep. Your health and safety, and the safety of others, depends on it.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Sam Milam

Sam Milam has been writing and running her own businesses for several years. She was a police and fire emergency 911 dispatcher for four years. She has received training for handling responses to active shooters, suicides, kidnappings, structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, tactical incidents, natural disaster emergencies and so on. Knowledge is power, and by passing on that knowledge she hopes to provide tools for others to avoid and protect themselves and those around them.
Sam Milam

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