Night Moves

Friday, February 11, 2011 4:52
Posted in category Shopping

We are creatures of the light. We sleep by night, awake with the sun, and go about our business during the day. As the sun slides into the west, our bodies begin to wind down in preparation for sleep and the rest we need.

That’s how it works for most of us. But not for all. One in five Americans lives on the other side of the clock, as part of a group called shift workers. They sleep by day and toil at night to keep factories humming, to keep hospitals in operation, and to provide 24-hour services-such as all-night supermarkets-to an economy that never sleeps.

If you’ve never worked the night shift, you might think that adjusting to it would be simple enough, something that might take a few days to get used to. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Human beings are built to be daytime creatures. It’s hardwired into our circuitry,” says Timothy Monk, PhD, DSc, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Even those who choose night work don’t fully appreciate what they’re up against, namely a powerful inner timing mechanism that regulates sleep and wakefulness and governs a daily ebb and flow of body chemicals. The body’s internal clock is reset each day by the rising sun and evening darkness, creating a natural cycle called a circadian (cir-KAY-dee-an) rhythm. “When you deliberately try to shift the sleep/wake cycle, it’s like having a symphony with two conductors, each one beating out a different time,” says Dr. Monk. “Your delicate internal rhythms go haywire.”

Imagine what it’s like to come home at dawn and climb into bed with the sun’s rays fighting their way in around the curtains. Add to that increased traffic noise and the general invasions-like friends dropping by-and AT&T calling to lure you away from MCI, and it’s easy to see why the average night-shift worker gets 5 to 7 hours less sleep per week than a day worker.

Lack of sleep is the biggest complaint among shift workers. But the larger problem is the toll that not enough sleep over long periods can take on the body. Health problems caused by erratic sleep schedules include seemingly ceaseless fatigue, depression, and loneliness; and problems with colds, flu, the stomach, and menstrual cycles. There’s a greater tendency toward obesity, heart disease, and accidents, too.

This litany of troubles is not meant to frighten you, but to make you aware of the powerful effect shift work can have on your body. It’s only logical that by improving your chances for getting restful sleep, you can dramatically reduce your risk of experiencing these health problems. Part of the prescription for good sleep doubles as a prescription for good health. Fortunately, scientists today understand the body’s natural rhythms better than ever before, and their research points to some helpful ways to get a good day’s sleep.

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