By far the biggest shift work struggle that I hear from people when it comes to working crazy and irregular hours is FATIGUE. Nothing comes even remotely close, and you certainly don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand what causes this fatigue. It’s simply called – ‘shift work sleep deprivation’.
Just hearing those four words strung together – ‘shift work sleep deprivation’ – is enough to make anyone feel tired and lethargic.
But if you’re working in an occupation that includes irregular start and finish times and/or you’re required to work long hours then you’re going to suffer from sleep deprivation at some point in time – no question.
And if you’re a night shift worker then you’re really in trouble because getting some high quality shut-eye during the day can be a monumental task to say the least, particularly if your neighbour decides to mow the lawn just as you pull into your driveway after night shift!
But the fact of the matter is, one of the main requirements of our job is to be at work when we would normally be asleep. Or more simply put – when everybody else is sleeping!
And the problem with this is that our bodies are programmed to operate on a 24-hour cycle which means that when the sun goes down, your body reacts by preparing for sleep. After midnight, your ‘body clock’ automatically starts to reduce your body temperature as well as your physical alertness so that you can sleep.
In fact this is a crucial time when your body starts to heal and repair itself, which is why working crazy and irregular hours long term can certainly be damaging to your health.
But I don’t want to be all doom and gloom (you’re probably reading this article right now and thinking how soul destroying and depressing it is), but that’s certainly not my intention.
What I want to do is to help you to learn to live with shift work sleep deprivation because when you work these crazy hours you have to accept that sleep deprivation is going to be a part of your life. It’s just one of those things. But when you begin to stop fighting it and instead, learn to live with it, you will actually start to feel a lot less fatigued. (Now you’re really thinking that I’ve lost my marbles, but just stick with me here).
So as of today, I want you to stop focussing (and talking about) how tired and sleep deprived you might be feeling right now. Instead aim to get as much sleep as you possibly can, and be grateful for the amount of sleep that you have managed to acquire. Because if you’re just saying to yourself over and over again how tired you’re feeling, then you’re just going to attract more of this tiredness – literally!
You see the truth of the matter is, you may not be able to change your roster so that you can sleep like a ‘normal’ person, so it’s going to be up to you to manage your “shift working sleep” (or lack of) – the best way that you can.
So start changing the way that you think about shift work, and start taking responsibility for your own health and well-being.
When you do, you will begin to notice that shift work sleep deprivation will no longer feel like a piercing thorn in your side, and you will be able to go on and lead a relatively healthy (within reason of course) and balanced life – something that every shift worker is so desperately in search of!