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Shift workers – finding a balance

We are a diurnal species and thus, we normally sleep at night and are active during the daytime.  As part of modern lifestyle many people are forced to work during the night, being exposed to light when our bodies are should be in darkness.

Melatonin is a hormone produced by our bodies pineal gland in response the sun going down or darkness.  In a normal wake-sleep cycle melatonin is produced during the night to support sleep, and other body functions.  The first morning light triggers the pineal gland to stop producing melatonin, this normal pattern is disrupted in shift workers.

Supplemental melatonin is often used by shift workers to help improve ability to fall asleep, and decrease waking, it however has not been shown to increase overall sleep duration.

Some lifestyle techniques which can help ensure a better sleep include:

  • sleeping in a dark room, with blackout drapes or an eye mask if needed
  • Wearing sunglasses on the drive home in the daylight hours after working nights.
  • Earplugs can also be beneficial while sleeping to block sounds.
  • A “white noise” machine is an alternative to ear plugs if there is distracting sound in the house or neighborhood that cannot be avoided.
  • One should avoid sleeping in a room that is too hot or too cold.
  • Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  • If possible, one should attempt to maintain a consistent sleep schedule seven days a week,even on their days off.

As a Naturopathic Doctor I often prescribe botanicals and nutrients that can be supportive for shift workers.  Adaptogenic botanicals can help your body to balance hormones and stabilize energy levels.  A common adaptogen is ginseng, but there are many types of ginseng, and they should be prescribed by a professional (like a Naturopathic Doctor) who can insure there are no interactions with an pharmaceuticals you may be taking.

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