"When all goes well the outcome is 3 shifts of equally alert and physically prepared officers ready to provide for the health and safety of the community. When all is not well, alertness decreases, vehicle and other equipment accidents are more likely and the potential for serious injury, disability or death looms larger" (drjohnconlin.blogspot.com).
Fatigue can catch up to all of us, but don't let it become a dangerous pattern for you. (Policeassn.org.nz).
Signs of Fatigue
- Slow reaction times
- Increased risk-taking
- Poor communication
- Poor judgment of distance and time
- Sore or tired eyes; blurred vision
- Nodding off for a fraction of a second
- Impatience, restlessness, irritability; and taking safety shortcuts
Before my husband started working night shifts, we prepared a small bedroom in the basement by putting aluminum foil over the windows. No...nothing stylish about it, but it did help block out sunlight that would keep him awake during the day. I suppose he could've worn a sleep mask, but he wasn't enthusiastic about that idea. We also placed a fan in the room to function as white noise that helped block out the sounds of traffic and dogs.
Dr. John Conlin, police psychologist, offers these additional suggestions for being sleep healthy during shift work.
- Aim for one, uninterrupted 8-hour sleep period daily.
- Keep sleeping environment dark and noise free.
- Maintain same sleep-wake schedule on off days. (If you are rotating shifts, pick a schedule that gets you up two hours before your shift.)
- Take melatonin supplement 2 to 3 hours before desired sleep onset. (A hormone that induces sleep)
- A 20 to 60 minute nap prior to the start of night shifts for those who wake up 8 or more hours before their shift.
- Replace a meal break with a 20 minute nap during a night shift.
- Increase the available light inside the station or work area during night shifts. (Available light should exceed a minimum of 1000 Lux. Additional lighting is recommended during night shifts).
- Balance your use of caffeine. Save it for the difficult 0300 hour time period. Eliminate caffeine several hours before desired sleep onset. "If you drink it only when you need it to stay awake you'll require less than the officer who drinks it all the time" (PoliceOne.com).
- Avoid sedative hypnotic sleep agents/sleeping pills.
- Only use your bed for sleep and physical intimacy. Avoid watching TV, surfing the Internet, or eating food.
"If you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes or so; get up and do something until you feel you can fall back to sleep" (Drjohnconlin.blogspot.com). The other big factor in adjusting to shift work is diet.
If you work shifts, you really need to plan your meals so you don't end up eating junk on the job. "Working shifts means that the body requires energy at times that it expects to be resting, which makes it more difficult for us to be able to digest food at night and to produce energy at the right time for night work" Policeassn.org.nz.
If you sleep in the morning/daytime, the meal before bed should be rich in carbohydrates (cereal, toast, fruit, rice). After you sleep, you should eat your main meal with a combination of protein and carbohydrates. Examples include lean meats like chicken and fish, pasta, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, yogurt, breakfast drinks or fruit smoothies, and fresh fruit.
During a night shift, avoid high-fat foods, but don't skip meals. Instead, eat frequent, small snacks with protein or fruit to stay alert. Try these healthy choices: nuts, dried fruit, lean meat, wholegrain bread sandwiches, breakfast drinks or fruit smoothies, lowfat yogurt, beans, wholegrain toast, eggs, fresh fruit, and plenty of water.
Adapting to shift work requires healthy sleep patterns and eating habits. "If you're tired your brain starts telling your body to eat--especially foods that are starchy, sweet and high in carbohydrates" (Policeassn.org.nz). These are the wrong foods to eat if you want to avoid feeling fatigue. Coffee and donuts will never replace a good eight hours of sleep.
Conlin, John, "10 Steps to Staying Sleep Healthy During Rotating Shift Work," Blogspot.com, 4-14,2012.
New Zealand Police Association, "What You Can Do to Stop the Shiftwork 'Blues'," Policeassn.org.nz, March 2010.
Wolfe, Duane, "5 Practical Sleep Tips for Shift Workers," PoliceOne.com, 4-29, 2011.