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How to cope with shift work

Shift working is all part of the job for doctors and nurses, even those working in sonography, radiology and allied health jobs but there's a risk it could affect your own health and wellbeing. We've put together our top ten tips to help you adjust your body to irregular sleep patterns.

1. Give your body clock a chance

It's not easy in a busy hospital setting, but if possible try to avoid shifts that rotate frequently between night and day. Your body clock is less likely to cope if you're regularly switching your sleep pattern.

2. Don't take naps

It's tempting to take short naps during the day rather than having a good sleep. But it's a bad idea because it disrupts your sleep pattern. Try to keep to a set sleep schedule.

3. Avoid natural light

Your body naturally reacts to daylight, so when you're trying to sleep during the day you need to shut out as much light as possible. Use black-out curtains or blinds, or wear an eye mask.

4. Don't take your phone to bed

Avoid looking at your smartphone, tablet or TV just before you go to sleep. The artificial light can stimulate your brain and make it difficult for you to drop off.

5. Give yourself some space

Ask family and close neighbours to avoid dropping in or doing noisy activities when you're sleeping and make sure you switch your phone off. Schedule your socialising so that you're not committed to going out during or after a run of nights.

6. Eat well

It's important not to go to bed feeling hungry. However, a light meal or snack is preferable to spicy food or a heavy meal, which may be difficult to digest and could keep you awake. To help you stay energised during your shift, stay well-hydrated with water or fruit juices and eat 'slow energy release foods' such as nuts and dried fruit.

7. Don't OD on caffeine

It's tempting to rely on stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks to get you through a busy shift. A moderate amount of caffeine is fine, but too much will over-stimulate you and make it difficult to sleep when you need to.

8. Do some exercise

Moderate exercise can help you stay alert during your shift and improve your sleep quality afterwards. Go for a walk, a swim or a mild work-out.

9. Cut down on alcohol

A few glasses of your favourite tipple may relax you enough to nod off, but alcohol can also disrupt your sleep pattern and you won't get a good night's rest. Limit your alcohol intake or stick to soft drinks.

10. Keep an eye on the time

It's in the early hours of the morning (around 4am) when you'll be most vulnerable to tiredness and distraction. Be aware, maintain your focus and avoid repetitive or monotonous tasks.
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