OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. --
Night shift: Unavoidable for some Airmen, dreaded by many. Humans are naturally wired to be awake during the day and to sleep at night. Those who work the "graveyard" shift might find themselves tossing and turning when it comes time to hit the hay early in the morning, resulting in insomnia and fatigue. Good daytime sleep is possible, though, if shift work is a necessary part of your Air National Guard career.
Currently, the 102nd Intelligence Wing's 24/7 operations require overnight crews from the 102nd Intelligence Group. Depending on an Airman's area of expertise and Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC), their shift schedules could range from 10 or 12-hour shifts on days and/or nights, rotating shifts every few weeks.
"The 12-hour overnight shift is challenging to adjust to," said Airman 1st Class Dylan Spero, 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron, "Sleep habits and family life--everything sort of gets out of whack."
Poor sleep habits can be dangerous--your response times are slower, your judgment is blurred and you could nod off in the middle of a complex task.
So what can you do to survive and stay healthy during night shifts and your time off?
Barbara Powers, 102 IW Director of Psychological Health, shared some helpful tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle for nightshift workers.
"Communicating with your family, especially if you have young children, is important so everyone in the house understands that undisturbed daytime sleep is necessary for you to function properly," said Powers. "For example, if your small children find themselves knocking on the bedroom door while you're trying to sleep, suggest to your spouse to take them outside of the house for some daytime activities."
According to the National Sleep Foundation, proper sleep is the number one way to stay healthy while working night shifts. Having a routine wake-up time seven days a week will help set your internal clock and leads to regular sleep onset. Also, your bedroom should be comfortable and free from light and noise. Black-out shades and earplugs are some items you can buy to make your bedroom environment more comfortable.
Nutrition is also an important factor in regulating your shift life. A light snack, such as a glass of warm milk, cheese or a bowl of cereal can promote sleep. You should avoid certain foods near bedtime such as caffeine, peanuts, beans, sugar, spicy and high-fat foods like potato chips, according to the Center for Deployment Psychology. Also, plan ahead and bring healthy meals to work with you.
Chances are, if you have difficulty sleeping during the day, you also have difficulty staying alert at work.
Powers suggests working with others to help keep you alert on the job. "Because of the sedentary nature of the mission here, try to be active during breaks. Create games or contests such as 'Nerf Hoops' or other mentally engaging activities--just to keep things moving and get your mind off how many hours are left in the shift," she said.
Sure, it's easy to talk about being well rested, but when it comes down to actually doing it, it's easier said than done. So, what is best for you? It comes down to your own behavior. Powers suggests that if these tips don't seem to help, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. Sometimes another underlying issue needs to be addressed.
If you would like to discuss more tips on surviving the night shift or have any additional mental health questions, Barbara Powers' office is co-located with the Airman and Family Readiness Program office in the wing headquarters (building 158) and also has an office in building 197, room 10. She can be reached on her Blackberry, at 508-237-6652 and her email address is Barbara.Powers.Ctr@ang.af.mil.