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How to Adjust to a Normal Schedule After Working the Night Shift for Years
Now that your nights are no longer your days, you can look forward to better health, more social interaction and sleeping at regular hours. Over the years of night shift work, your body's circadian rhythms have been turned upside down, and it's going to take some time to set them right again. Just as a strict routine likely helped you cope with night shift work, a new, equally-strict routine will help you now.
Take a Few Days Off
If at all possible, ask for a few extra days off to adjust to the new schedule. During this time, sleep as much as you want, but also get some exercise. Go for a walk or a run or cycle around the neighborhood. Those years on the night shift may have resulted in insomnia or other sleep disturbances; exercise will help you sleep harder and longer. During your days off, make an attempt to get up in the morning and go to bed at night. Turn off any electronics an hour before bed, and dim the lights to signal to your body it's time for rest.
Helping You Sleep
When you're trying to get to sleep, avoid resorting to pharmaceuticals if you can help it, as they can become addictive and lead to chronic sleep issues. A safer alternative may be a tea or herbs that encourage sleep, but since they can also be contraindicated with other medications you may be taking, it's always best to get recommendations from your doctor. Avoid napping during the day on your days off too; that's only going to keep you awake at night. If you're accustomed to drinking caffeine, drink it in the morning only, or it might keep you awake at night. A warm bath at night can also help you prepare for sleep.
Delight in Three Square Meals
Your eating schedule has probably been out of whack over the years as well -- and it's going to take some time to get your body back into a normal routine. It might be difficult, but eat your meals at a normal time. Go out with friends for dinner, or meet a friend for lunch. You might not feel hungry at the "normal" times, but your body will adjust the more time you spend eating at the regular hours.
Get a Checkup
After years on the night shift, your body has likely suffered in any number of ways. Common ailments from shift work include gastrointestinal upsets, hypertension and other heart conditions, and changes to hormone levels and reproductive function. Fortunately for you, some of those issues might resolve as you get into a more normal routine, but to start your new routine off on the right foot, it's best to seek help.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics: A Time to Work: Recent Trends in Shift Work and Flexible Schedules
- National Sleep Foundation: How Does Exercise Help Those With Chronic Insomnia?
- Kansas State University: How to Get a Good Night's Sleep
- MayoClinic.com: Sleep aids: Understand Over-the-Counter Options
- Institute of Occupational Medicine: The Impact of Shift and Night Work on Health
- MayoClinic.com: Valerian: A Safe and Effective Sleep Aid?
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.