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How Does the Night Shift Affect Your Sleeping Cycle?

Last updated on : 16 May, 2024

Read time : 4 min

Sleep is essential to our daily routine that determines our health and well-being. Adequate sleep helps improve cognitive functioning, balances body hormones, regulates body metabolism, circulatory system, and respiratory system and boosts immunity.

How is the Sleep Cycle Regulated?

The sleep cycle in our body is processed by the circadian rhythm or the sleep/wake cycle in the body. Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour internal clock in our brain that controls processes of alertness and sleepiness in response to the light change in the surrounding. It helps cope with daily activities such as learning, thinking, reacting, concentrating and working.

Shift work disorder

During the daytime, wakefulness is controlled by the circadian rhythm, which increases alertness during the day and decreases attentiveness during the nighttime. Circadian rhythm is further influenced by a homeostatic pressure of sleep that develops due to long waking hours in the day.

Both circadian rhythm and homeostatic pressure of sleep, work in synchronization with the light and dark cycle to maintain wakefulness while awake and at work, while inducing sleep at night. 

When working during the night or early morning shifts circadian drive for alertness is low, and sleepiness is more. Circadian desynchronization opposes the natural biological cycle of sleep and leads to shortened and hampered sleep and excessive sleepiness while awake at work. 

The circadian desynchronization due to night shifts is known as shift work disorder. This sleep disorder is characterized by excessive sleepiness, insomnia, or both. It is usually experienced by those who work in nontraditional shifts, i.e. outside the regular 9:00 am to 5:00 pm shift.

With the growing economy, the rate of night shifts is also increasing in India, and so are the health consequences of night shifts. It becomes challenging for a night shift worker to sleep in daylight with so much disturbance.

Chronic sleep deprivation, sleepiness, and lack of energy from night shifts negatively impact your health, increasing the risk of accidents and lowering workplace productivity. 

Night shift workers also experience terrible mood swings and irritability due to sleep deprivation. They may also indulge in alcohol or drugs as a sleeping aid.

Serious health consequences due to shift work disorder

The significant health consequences as the result of circadian desynchronization include:

  • Type 2 diabetes due to sleep displacement and altered meal timing 
  • Dysfunction of the gastrointestinal tract due to disruption of rhythmicity in the gut microbiome.
  • Cancer due to the suppression of melatonin. It is a hormone secreted by the brain during the night that controls oxidative DNA damage in the body.
  • Heart disease and ischemic stroke due to the chronic stress associated with the night shift
  • Disruption in mental health due to imbalanced hormones in the brain
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea

How can you cope with shift work disorder?

Despite its adverse effects, night shift work will remain a vital and unavoidable component of our economy. So it’s good to make particular lifestyle and behavioural changes to prevent and manage shift work disorder. These are the tips that you can follow if you are a night shift worker:

Try to keep your travel time short to avoid or minimize your exposure to morning sunlight on your way home. It will help prevent the activation of the internal daytime clock.

  • Try to sleep maximum after your night shift.
  • Follow a particular sleep routine even on weekends and days off.
  • Take a break of 2 days after a series of the regular night shift.
  • Avoid caffeine intake before sleeping hours.
  • Include foods that induce better sleep.
  • Use earplugs and sleeping masks to get uninterrupted sleep.
  • Create your bedtime rituals that help induce sleep, such as aromatherapy or meditation.
  • Replace your light shade curtains with dark shade to minimize sunlight.
  • Wear sunglasses to avoid sunlight on your way to work.
  • Include melatonin supplementation in your diet.
  • Sip a cup of chamomile tea after coming back from work to induce better sleep.
  • Create a quiet, dark and peaceful setting during sleep time.

Ask your family members to avoid noisy activities while you sleep.

Implementing these lifestyle changes will help you manage shift work disorder, boost your mental health and increase your productivity at work.

Disclaimer: The information given in this article is true to our best knowledge. Still, we recommend that you consult your doctor if you are experiencing sleeping problems.

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Our healthcare experts have carefully reviewed and compiled the information presented here to ensure accuracy and trustworthiness. It is important to note that this information serves as a general overview of the topic and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, or cure any health problem. This page does not establish a doctor-patient relationship, nor does it replace the advice or consultation of a registered medical practitioner. We recommend seeking guidance from your registered medical practitioner for any questions or concerns regarding your medical condition.


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