How to adjust sleep to the midnight shift?
August 31, 2007 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Which is the more effective method of shifting to a graveyard shift (midnight to nine a.m.): incremental changes in go-to-sleep time of an hour or so over the course of a week or a cold-turkey shift over two days?

Also, while I know melatonin's use as a sleep aid is controversial, is it useful initially as a sleep regulator?
Any other advice from night-shifters would be appreciated.
posted by the sobsister to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
In my experience, it's easier to go through two days of hell than to try and slowly change my schedule. Modulo your age and general health, of course.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:45 AM on August 31, 2007

Cold turkey. It won't be pleasant, but it'll get the job done best.
posted by Meagan at 8:56 AM on August 31, 2007

I don't like melatonin, but I use it for jetlag because it's so effective (note, I take 1 MICROgram, which is a tiny sliver of 1 milligram or 1/3 of a 3 microgram pill). Go cold turkey, take the melatonin an hour before your new bedtime for 2-4 nights, you'll be better in a couple of days and you'll feel normal in a couple of weeks.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:07 AM on August 31, 2007

ditto cold turkey ... works best for me
posted by anadem at 9:21 AM on August 31, 2007

Cold turkey is better but how you shift is much less important than maintaining a consistent sleep schedule once you've made the shift.
posted by rdr at 9:27 AM on August 31, 2007

Your body will be just as confused by the slow increments and fight against them just as hard as it will the cold turkey. You might as well get it all over with sooner.
posted by hermitosis at 9:36 AM on August 31, 2007

I used to have to switch from graveyard to swing shift every other week for this horrible job I once had. I found that cold turkey was best, but there are many other things you can do to help the transition. Reseting to the flip is a whole body AND mind process. Try to adjust your world so that every aspect of it is shifted over 12 hours and the only difference is that it's dark out when it should be light. That means breakfast at night, workout at the time you normally would, except 12 hours later, etc. Coffee at night, milk and turkey in the morning. It's the little differences. You get the idea. Good luck. It's only the first 2 nights/days that suck!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:37 AM on August 31, 2007

All at once, I tried to phase things in when I started night shifts, but couldn't do it. Also, I'd go cold turkey back to 'normal' when I had more than a few days off.

Good luck, however you manage it. Nights are tough, I look back on it as the darkest period of my life, literally and figuratively. It can be okay for some people with the right support, but lack of regular sunlight really had a serious effect on my mood after 2-3 months. On the bright side, I now appreciate simple sunshine a lot more than before.
posted by bluejayk at 9:37 AM on August 31, 2007

Get blackout curtains and good earplugs.

This transition sounds like a perfect short-term use for melatonin. Get the lowest dose available, and try to find the type that dissolves under your tongue (sublingual).

Never worked a night shift job but I have friends who've done it. Personally, I have a hard time conceiving of a job so cool/important/high-paying that it'd be worth rearranging your life for, but peoples' circumstances and priorities differ, I guess.
posted by contraption at 10:08 AM on August 31, 2007

i did rotating shifts for about 4 years.

first of all, don't take melatonin - it regulates your sleeping based on light levels. you want the opposite of this.

when i had to change, at first i just stayed up late and powered through with caffeine, and went to bed tired. eventually my body adapted, and i started naturally doing the gradual shifting thing such that my waking and sleeping hours were roughly synced to my work schedule. yours might, it might not; not everybody was able to adapt to it. some people were just tired.

iamkimiam is exactly right, you have to completely turn your life upside down when youre on nights. live your life according to your normal routine as much as possible. i found myself in bars at 9 am, knockin' back a cool one to finish off a hard day of work.

its hard at first but eventually you get used to it, and some aspects (the quiet solitude of going to work at midnight, running errands after work when things are just opening up and everyone's chipper, etc) are nice.

for sleeping, you need it dark, and to whatever extent you can manage, quiet and cool. hang a heavy blanket over the windows; tape it down around the edges. (is that insane? yeah, but you need it darrrrrrk. air conditioning or fan on, blowing hard, enveloping you in white noise.)

you have to find a schedule that works for you. different people did different things; i actually found i slept better on owls when i got up just before work (11pm or so), worked til 8 or 830 and then stayed up doing stuff outside until noon or 1pm. then a few hours to wind down inside in the dark and i'd sleep like a baby. i was fortunate enough to live in a place where outside reliably meant sunny, and i think being in the sun and then going inside to the dark when tired knocked me out good.

anyway, good luck, and dont stay in this job for a long time; it'll shorten your life span.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 10:29 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

sergeant sandwich pretty much has it. I worked at a group home for the mentally retarded for about 7 months, flipping every 3 days between night and day shifts just after all college.

It was hell, I hated it, and there is nothing in heaven or earth that will ever convince me to work that way again. That said, everything mentioned above is correct - live as normally as possible, get at least a few hours of sunlight each day, and get out as soon as you can.
posted by ellF at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2007

Thanks to all for the good info.

A few followups if I may:

Any thoughts on blinders vs. blacking out the windows (curtains, tape, etc.)? Nobody seems to recommend those things you get on airplanes or better versions thereof.

Is it better to try to re-sync sleep patterns with my SO on weekends or should I stick to the new schedule seven days a week?

Thanks again.
posted by the sobsister at 10:44 AM on August 31, 2007

I'm sorry, but sergeant sandwich has it completely backwards on melatonin. Melatonin does NOT regulate your body based on light levels, light levels regulate your body's production of melatonin. When it's light out, your body produces less, when it's dark your body produces more and you get sleepy.

He has it right on everything else though, I suggest you follow his recommendations but also take melatonin at your new sleep time. It should make the transition (which I had to make once a week for a year at a previous job) a little less painful.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:28 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

To answer your follow-up, those eye things don't work very well because light hitting parts of your body other than your eyes can signal it to produce less melatonin. They've actually come up with a device that shines light on the back of your knees to help reduce jet lag. I just used the blinds that were already on my window, but in retrospect I wish I had come up with something to block out the light a little better.

The SO thing was actually what made me quit that job. It's definitely possible to switch every weekend, but it will eventually sap your energy and happiness.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:34 AM on August 31, 2007

I've NEVER had a daytime job. I currently work 4 ten-hour late night shifts.

A quick power nap, waking up in early afternoon on the first day of my off-time is sufficient to get me back on "days". Melatonin a wonderful; not only will it help you sleep but it will provide restful sleep (unlike most dedicated sleeping pills). Just don't overdo it. A small bottle will last me 6 months easy.

I do tend to sleep with a fan nearby; not so much for the breeze, but for the white-noise effect.

Also, I will go through periods where I'll keep the same hours on my off time, but generally I switch. No problems.

Don't overthink it; you're likely to psyche yourself out.
posted by RavinDave at 11:46 AM on August 31, 2007

During the 20 or so years that I worked graveyard, I did best when I stayed on the same schedule all week long. Unfortunately, that was tough with a wife and kids who all insisted on living on the day shift.
posted by faceonmars at 12:23 PM on August 31, 2007

If you can get your doctor to prescribe it for you, Provigil will help a lot.
posted by alms at 12:44 PM on August 31, 2007

my bad on the melatonin misconceptions. sounds like it's worth a try then.

as for trying to be awake on the weekends, think of it like the reverse - would you be comfortable now working a day job during the week and then on the weekends, pulling all-nighters? i know a lot of people who party a lot live like this, and its not impossible, but it's definitely hard to do (especially when its not fueled by drugs and music etc) and then have to switch right back the next day. i at least wouldn't try it until you're comfortable with your new routine.

ditto tungstenchef on the blindfolds; i could never sleep with something stuck to my face anyway, but it really does need to be dark in the room. hopefully you live somewhere that's fairly quiet during the afternoons too. (all that said, if spending time together is important to you, sleep while your SO is at work and spend time together in the afternoons/evenings. and be glad you aren't on swing shift or you wouldn't get any time together really!)
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:52 PM on August 31, 2007

Having been on rotating shift work a lot, I also recommend the cold turkey method. Not sleeping for 24 hours prior, and then just not having anything planned for the next off-shift works better for me than trying to bank up excess sleep ahead of time.

Decide if you want to do errands and stuff before work in the evening or after in the morning. I like the evening, and then go to work after, others like the other way. Whatever it is, try not to do a little of both, or some days one, some the other. That's what makes getting acclimated hard.
posted by ctmf at 9:01 PM on August 31, 2007

Cold Turkey, definitely. Forget the melatonin. Furthermore, do not entertain ideas of operating in "daylight" mode on weekends and holidays. You'll just turn your circadians into a huge trainwreck. It can cause strained relationships and friendships, but there's no other way to do it that isn't self-destructive.

I worked eight years in vampire mode, and it took me six months, an ex-girlfriend and a disastrous semester in college to get things sorted out at first.

On the plus side, there was no drive time traffic, no waiting in the checkout lines at the grocer at 04:00 AM, and the oppressive heat of Oklahoma was never a problem to.
posted by willconsult4food at 11:26 PM on August 31, 2007

Thanks to all for the good and helpful advice. It's much appreciated.
posted by the sobsister at 12:23 PM on September 3, 2007

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