One of the challenges of doing shiftwork is making the transitions between different shifts and adjusting one’s sleep / wake schedule to the new sleep / wake schedule.

How difficult this transition will be is dependent on the number of shifts you’ve done. For instance, if you have only done 2 night shifts, it’s likely you will not have fully transitioned to night-time alertness and daytime sleep, so it may be fairly easy to adjust your sleep / wake schedule to your usual night-time sleep schedule.

On the other hand, if you have worked 6 or 7 night shifts, then your body may have adjusted to night-time alertness and daytime sleep, so it will take at least 3 or 4 days, if not more, to adjust to a regular night-time sleep schedule.

If, on the other hand, you work a permanent night shift schedule, then you are better off maintaining your daytime sleep schedule, or something close to it, even on your days off. This saves your body from having to endure the stress of changing sleep/wake schedules.

Another critical factor in making sleep / wake transitions between shifts is determining what kind of ‘bird’ you are. Are you a night owl or an early bird or neither?

Knowing which ‘bird’ you are will determine not only how well you transition from one sleep/ wake schedule to another, but also what strategies work best to get the most sleep and promote alertness.

For example, if you are an early bird type, you may find the transition from days to nights difficult because you are physiologically inclined to be more of a day person. Therefore, transitioning your sleep to the day may be more difficult.

Transitioning back to days, however, will be much easier as you are physiologically inclined to wake early and be alert during the day.

A night owl person, on the other hand, may find the transition to nights much easier as they are inclined to be awake and alert later at night. But transitioning to a day shift may be difficult as they are not physiologically inclined to be awake and alert early in the day.

An important factor in making schedule transitions is knowing how to adjust your sleep / wake schedule when the shift changes. Many suggest that to aid adjustment one should immediately adopt the sleeping / waking and eating schedule associated with the shift you are working.

This makes sense if you are working 4 or more of the same shifts in a row. However, if you are only working 2 of the same shift in a row, making this immediate adjustment is not necessary because you will be back to your usual sleep / wake schedule before the body starts to make any adjustments.

Regardless of how many night shifts you’ve done, it is usually better to reduce the amount of day sleep after your last night. This is so you can get to sleep as close as possible to your usual night sleep time and sleep through the night.

If you sleep most of the day after your last night shift then it will be more likely that you won’t be able to sleep well that night. This will mean that it will take longer to regain your usual night sleep and day wake schedule.

The presentation ‘How to Be a Successful Shiftworker’ includes the topic of making schedule transitions. Schedule this presentation for your workplace today.

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