Graveyard Shift

Working an eight-hour shift is hard enough, but working one while the rest of the city sleeps can be downright exhausting.

At Uprise Bakery, employees are busy baking bread long before its doors open to the public. The baking process usually starts at 10 p.m. and goes until 7:30 a.m. to provide fresh bread for the day, says owner and baker Ron Rottinghaus.

The first thing Rottinghaus tells potential employees is to be proactive about sleep deprivation. “Any kind of sleep deprivation can take an emotional toll,” Rottinghaus says. Along with depression, sleep deprivation has been linked to a slew of health issues such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Our body has an internal clock — our circadian rhythm — that lets us know when we should be sleeping and when we should be awake. Because other factors such as temperature and exposure to light can affect the quality of our slumber, most of us sleep better, and more naturally, at night. Yet, about one in every five American workers is scheduled on shifts that go against our body’s natural sleeping pattern, according to a 2011 Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine article. These workers may experience difficulty sleeping and excessive sleepiness.

Those who work overnight shifts can get used to a different sleep schedule, much as our bodies adjust to time change while traveling, says Pradeep Sahota, chairman of the University of Missouri School of Medicine’s neurology department. When you travel to a place with a seven- or eight-hour time difference, Sahota explains, you adapt. “The earlier you switch to a new schedule, the better,” he says. It takes time, but soon enough your body can adjust to the time change.

Switching back and forth between day and night shifts is detrimental to your body once you start on another nighttime pattern, Sahota says. Flexible hours won’t allow your body to develop a sleeping routine, so keep a consistent schedule.

Rottinghaus prefers sleeping in 90-minute cycles before and after his nighttime baking shifts but remains adamant about staying away from caffeine or alcohol usually six hours before he plans on sleeping. “Not only is it important to get sleep, but it’s important to be strategic about setting aside that time and making an effort,” he says. Caffeine can have an effect on your ability to sleep for up to eight hours after you take that first sip. And alcohol might seem like a sleep aide, but it actually disrupts your sleep cycles.

Whenever we work, what’s crucial is to get that recommended seven to eight hours of daily shut-eye. “Our sleep debt is higher than our national debt,” Sahota says. “Sleep is important. We spend a third of our lifetime sleeping, but we tend to pay more attention to the other two thirds.”