Your Brain On Night Shift

If You Work The Graveyard Shift, Does Any Of The Following Sound Like You:

  • Brain Fog
  • Tired
  • Cranky
  • Alway hungry
  • Sick Often
  • Overweight
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

After working the night shift for nearly 11 years, I definitely checked most of those boxes above and as an RN in the emergency room, you do not want any of those! You need to be alert, on your feet and ready for an emergency at a drop of a dime. You Have Lives In Your Hands!

As years went by I noticed how my mood and health was changing. I had to figure out why. I kept telling myself, “I’m not me anymore.” Yes, the stress of the ER can definitely change a person but this was something more.

I would notice that my sleep was not optimal… the worst that was, the worse I felt. Even my days off were spent lying on the couch like a slug. I didn’t want to go to social gatherings, visit family or do anything but sleep and eat.

The more I researched, the more I learned the three big words that were making me feel the way I was…And those 3 words are:

Disrupted Circadian Cycle

WHY IS YOUR CIRCADIAN SLEEP CYCLE SO IMPORTANT?!

Getting adequate sleep is essential to weight loss, peak performance (physically & Mentally) and longevity.

For billions of years, the evolution of nearly all life forms on earth has been driven by the consistent rising and setting of the sun. This circadian rhythm governs our sleeping and eating patterns as well as the precise timing of important hormone secretions, brain wave patterns, and cellular repair and regeneration based on a 24-hour cycle. So when we disrupt that by working the night shift, we disrupt some of the very processes we depend upon to stay healthy, happy, productive, and focused.

THE HEALTH COST OF WORKING NIGHTS

Research shows that disrupted sleep cycles contribute to the following:

Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease

  • Release of metabolic hormones that regulate satiety and hunger are poorly regulated when sleep deprived. Your body decreases production of leptin, the hormone that tells your brain there is no need for more food. At the same time, it increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.
  • “The increase in type 2 diabetes risk associated with night shift work ranged from 5 percent in nurses who’d worked that schedule for one or two years to 58 percent in those who’d done so for at least 20 years.” https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001141
  • There is research to suggest that carbohydrate consumption can go up by 35-40% after only four or five days of restricted sleep.
  • A disfunction in your metabolic hormones and increase in obesity keeps us in a chronic inflammatory state.

Decreased immune function.

  • Overriding our biological clock makes you activate your “stress axis”, which is how your body reacts in a fight-or-flight situation. This sustained level of stress lowers our immune function and decreases our reaction time. During Sleep The immune system’s white blood cells kick into high gear, and macrophages and leukocytes multiply rapidly and induce healthy flora to prevail over harmful bacteria.

Impaired brain function, decrease reaction time, impaired memory and emotional control. Early cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.

  • Not only are night-shift workers prone to serious driving accidents after their shifts end, but major industrial accidents, such as the Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez oil spill, have been caused, in part, by mistakes made by excessively sleepy workers on a night or extended shift.
  • Sleep activates the release of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps the body burn fat, enhances physical performance and aids in longevity.
  • As you sleep, regions of the brain responsible for emotional and social function are rested so that you can face the day refreshed.
  • Poor sleeping habits also tends to raise your levels of corticosterone, the stress hormone associated with road rage.

Cancer

  • A primary mechanism responsible for this effect is disrupted melatonin production, a hormone with both antioxidant and anti-cancer activity. Melatonin both inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells and triggers cancer cell apoptosis (self-destruction).
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) even lists night shifts as “probably carcinogenic.” At least employers have caught on to this and are giving us a few extra bucks ( roughly $3-7 extra/hr for nurses 😔) for the added risks placed on night shift employees. Im being facetious of course.

OK, OK BUT I HAVE TO WORK NIGHTS. SO WHAT SHOUD I DO?!”

Here are some tips to optimize your sleep to decrease your risk of the above consequences.

Certainly the best option is to avoid working nights but thats not realistic for everyone and certain professions. SO if you must work nights, you’re better off consistently working the night shift, opposed to working days and nights on a rotating schedule.

My #1 Tip

Is To Get Yourself Into A 24hr Cycle!

How Do I Do That?

You must manipulate your light exposure!

Red Wavelengths= Increase melatonin= sleepy time.

  • Low temperature light that falls in the red-orange-yellow spectrum, such as candle light or fire light, does not affect melatonin production.

Blue Light =Decreased Melatonin= Awake and Alert.

  • Sun, Television, computer screens, cell phones, digital clocks with blue numbers, e-readers and energy-efficient LED and fluorescent lightbulbs.

When getting off work in the morning.

  • DO NOT blast your eyeballs with more bright artificial lights by looking at your phone, watching TV or getting on the computer! If You Must -> then install the “night mode” on your smart devises or download a free software program called F.lux to automatically adjust your screen light. Set a timer to only allow a small amount of time on your electronics then switch to a book to read.
  • PUT ON YOUR Blue blocking glasses ASAP- before walking outside in the sun. These are glasses with yellow lenses that filter out blue light. Or sun glasses with yellow lenses- they must wrap on the side of your eyes like goggles OR just get some goggles 🙂 Best budget friendly screen blockers, great wrap around blue blockers.
  • Avoid LED lights as much as possible!!! If you must choose LED get a warmer colored temperature.

**Doing These Will Help The Production Of Melatonin**


YOUR BEDROOM:

Think of your bedroom as a cave—it should be quiet, cool, and dark

1. Make your bedroom pitch black!

  • Install Blackout Drapes
  • Close your bedroom door if light comes through it; if light seeps in underneath your door, put a towel along the base
  • Get rid of your electric clock radio (or at least block its light while you’re sleeping)
  • Avoid night lights of any kind. If you must have a night light put red bulbs in them.
  • Keep all light sources off (even if you get up to go to the bathroom), including your computer and TV. Use Red/soft orange bulb colors for night light. I have a small Himalayan sea salt lamp on my bedside table. I flipped that on if I need it at night.
  • Avoid any sources of electromagnetic radiation, i.e., all electrically driven appliances in your bedroom, especially when connected to the AC-operated main electricity. Electrical transformers, WiFi-controlled light bulbs and smartphones produce dirty electricity and dirty electromagnetic radiation, which interferes with melatonin production. I put my phone in airplane mode when I sleep.

2. Make your room cold.

⁃ Suggested bedroom temperature should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.

3. Invest in a noise-canceling sound machine.

-Or use a smartphone app to play ocean or rain sounds as you fall asleep. I use my noisy fan at home or when Im traveling I like the app “white noise.” In our hunter gatherer days distracting noises were supposed to wake us up for safety reasons. Like not getting eaten by a lion.


When you wake up:

1. Loud, jarring alarms disrupt your natural sleep cycles and lead to sleep deprivation. If you must use an alarm, opt for rising to nature sounds rather than a blaring beep.

2. Take a warm shower to help stimulate the central nervous system and naturally get the blood circulating.

3. Open the curtains immediately and let sunlight in. Take advantage of the sunlight as much as possible before it goes down. I walk out on my porch to let the sunshine hit my face. Read this article for alot of great gadgets to help mimic the rise and setting of the sun here “Why you should wake up to light.” Here is a great artificial light that you can use in the morning to replicate the sun.


WHY IS LIGHT SO IMPORTANT WHEN WAKING?

Light is registered first through the retina; the signal travels through the optic nerve to other regions of the brain, including the pineal gland that activates the release of serotonin. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase within the first 30 minutes of waking. This morning cortisol influx is a desirable genetic mechanism that prepares us for the energy demands of a busy day.


Other Ways to Minimize Risks Associated With Night Shift Work.

  1. GET YOUR Vitamin D Levels checked!!! Since night shift work largely prevents mid-day sun exposure needed for vitamin D production, measure your vitamin D, and maintain a healthy level of 40 to 70 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) by trying to get sun exposure during the day, or with an oral vitamin D3 supplement (along with vitamin K2). My Vitamin D level was 15!!!
    • Vitamin D plays a central role in metabolizing calcium and improving the absorption of key nutrients such as vitamins A and C. It helps strengthen immunity, cardiac, and neurological function and ultimately, gene expression. It switches on—some 2000 genes! These genes can trigger elevated levels of feel-good hormones like beta-endorphins and serotonin.
    • Your risk of cancer increases if your vitamin D levels are low. by acting on the extremely important P53 gene, known as the “DNA proofreader” gene. P53 is responsible for overseeing hundreds of millions of daily cell replications, informing cells when something has gone awry and instructing them to make necessary changes. It’s also involved in apoptosis, the natural self-destruction of superfluous or damaged cells before they become malignant. In the absence of vitamin D, however, the P53 gene will down-regulate—or turn off—and the risk of many forms of cancer, including melanoma, will dramatically increase.
    • ON YOUR DAYS OFF – strive for somewhere between 10 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight between 10am-3pm. Expose large surface areas of the skin just long enough to get a slight tan.
  2. Pay attention to other strategies that promote mitochondrial health. Such as getting fat adapted, fasting, exercise and nutritional supplements like coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, D-ribose, magnesium, animal-based omega-3, B vitamins and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).
    • Getting Fat Adapted is having your body learn how to use your own fat for fuel instead of sugar. Do you have extra fat hanging around on your body… thats stored fuel!! By switching you not only have an increase in mental clarity, energy and no more “hangry” insulin spiking rollercoaster ride but you will also be able to go longer without eating… which can be very, very helpful in the healthcare field since we rarely get breaks! This has helped me out tremendously as I can get through most of my shift still having energy, not crashing and not moody. I feel great and energized because my body is using my own stored fat for fuel and not looking for sugar all the time. Of course we still have to stay hydrated which poses a whole nother peeing issue for healthcare workers, LOL. (see my programs below if you need help with this)
  3. Avoid sleeping pills as much as possible, as the side effects may cause more harm than good. Better alternatives include using the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), listening to a brainwave synchronization tapes or trying a natural remedy that can help you relax. I use guided meditation and Yoga Nidra on YouTube. I also use essential oil‘s like lavender to spray on my bed before going to sleep.
  4. Take a nap– if I am able to step away at work I will usually go to my car, turn the air on and close my eyes with either a guided meditation playing or some kind of White Noise app playing. Naps are a wonderful way to recharge your brain.

PLEASE , PLEASE, PLEASE

I encourage you to implement some of these tips tonight, as high-quality sleep is one of the most important factors in your health, quality of life and the lives of others for us healthcare workers.



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