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As the sun sets, most people are home with their families or friends, unwinding after the workday. However, tens of thousands of people are just clocking in. Whether it’s due to a tight financial situation, personal circumstance or certain job requirements, working the ‘graveyard shift’ is sometimes unavoidable.

Working night shifts, or shifts at unsocial hours, means coping with more than a 180-degree shift in one’s body clock. It means having to cope with missing out on social engagements, spending less time with one’s family, and experiencing constant mood swings and reduced cognitive functioning. The reduced quality and quantity of sleep experienced by our night owls also increase the risk of disease and injury (depending on the job). Although the toll these shifts take is significant, someone has to do it. This holds true for almost all jobs: from working in armed forces, emergency response departments to the staff at 24/7 convenience stores. So, how can people cope with working the graveyard shift?

One strategy that people working the night shift can use is to make the changes to their circadian rhythm gradually, giving time to the body to adjust. Making sure to let one’s supervisor know that you may take a few days to adjust can relieve the performance pressure during the initial adjustment period. A way to optimize your sleep is to avoid stimulants like caffeine. While it can give you an immediate jolt of energy, it stays in one’s system for hours after the initial effects which may interfere with your sleep post-work.

Avoiding alcohol is also helpful since alcohol interferes with the body’s capability to repair itself during REM sleep. These strategies may aid in combating the physiological effects night shifts can have on your body, which in turn can improve the quality of work produced. Apart from the physiological effects of night shifts, there is a lot of mental stress cultivated by the lack of social interaction with friends and family.

Most night shift workers are paid a premium to compensate for their social lives being affected. Since the workers are catching up on sleep during social hours, they miss out on spending time with their friends and family. Some may even experience feelings of guilt due to their inability to fulfil their familial and social responsibilities- this is experienced by a majority of parents working the night shift.

The lack of interaction also breeds feelings of loneliness and depression. To attempt to combat these effects of the night shift, having the support and understanding of one’s loved ones is imperative. Maintaining balanced sleep schedules and working with the people in one’s close circles to incorporate time together into the weekly routine can make a significant impact on the mental health and relationships of the night shift worker.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

By Dr Rachna Khanna Singh

Dr Rachna Khanna Singh, the Senior Fellow with DRaS is a Mental Wellness Expert, a TEDx Talk speaker, focused on Relationship, Lifestyle & Stress Management. She heads the Department of Holistic Medicine & Wellness at Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon and the Founder and Director of The Mind & Wellness Studio, Delhi & NGO ‘Serve Samman’. Dr Rachna is a visiting lecturer and faculty member of various esteemed educational institutes worldwide such as IIM, IIT, BITS PILANI, Delhi University, NMIMS, Amity University, Himachal Medical Colleges, University of Exeter, University of Minnesota, Royal College of Physicians, etc.