Home health aides who work night shifts or round the clock on some days of the week are likely to experience sleep disorders. This is particularly true for those who have recently started working as aides and are getting used to new work-sleep hours.
Sleep disorders not only impact your health but also affect quality of care for the patient. Generally, aides who haven’t yet figured out how to manage late work hours, are either sleep-deprived or suffer from sleep-wake disorder.
Sleep deprivation versus sleep-wake disorder
As its name implies, sleep deprivation means not having enough sleep. If you’re doing two 8-hour shifts, and doesn’t care about getting at least a few hours of restful sleep, there is a good chance that you may suffer from the following conditions:
- Problems with concentration and creativity
- Problems remembering new information
- A change in mood characterized by greater anxiety or irritability
- Weakened immunity
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Issues with balance and coordination
Chronic sleep deprivation can also increase risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Sleep wake disorder, also known as shift work sleep disorder, describes the inability of your body clock to shift in tune with your sleep-work hours. Our body’s circadian rhythm is a biological process that dictates when we feel sleepy and when we feel energized to work. It is a 24-hour rhythm that not only governs how our bodies and minds stay in sync with the day, but also affects life and death matters.
An out-of-whack body clock can manifest in troubling ways, from depriving you of sleep to causing excessive sleepiness. Shift work sleep disorder, besides affecting your digestive system and increasing risk of metabolic issues, can also cause depression and decrease happiness.
If you will be caring for a dementia patient or working as an on-call aide, you can avoid sleep deprivation, irregular sleep and burnout by incorporating the tips discussed below.
Five tips to adapt to night shifts and irregular work hours
- Design a night-time sleep environment: Our body releases the sleep hormone melatonin in response to darkness. You can trick the brain into thinking it is night time by making your bedroom as dark as possible using blackout blinds and curtains. Also consider ear plugs or a white noise app to block out sounds or create a soothing environment for restful sleep. If you have been provided a separate bedroom at the client’s home, explore the possibility of making these changes to the room, with permission from the client. Anyone who understands the importance of sleep for the aide and patient experience should not have a problem with these suggestions as long as they are applied to strict non-work/sleep hours.
- Eat a healthy breakfast: Your first meal of the day should not be heavy on sugar or comprise of refined foods as they can directly impact your blood sugar levels and cause ups and downs in energy throughout the day. A breakfast comprising protein, fruits, nuts and snacks will keep your blood sugar stable and energy levels consistent.
- Stay busy during your night shift: If you keep your body and/or mind occupied during night time hours at work, you won’t feel sleepy on the job while enjoying better sleep during non-work day time hours. When your client is getting some shut-eye and your active assistance is not needed, read a book, do puzzles or wrap up some of next day’s work.
- Maintain strict work and sleep hours: Let your family members and friends know that you are unavailable during the day and must be contacted only in the event of an emergency. Make up for the unavailable hours by planning family time, date nights and outings on your days off.
- If these tactics don’t work, talk to your doctor: Melatonin supplements cause very few side effects, and you can consider using them to regulate your sleep-wake cycles. Have a chat with your doctor about using melatonin supplements and other sleep aids that can promote sleep without adverse side-effects.
A proactive attitude towards self-managing your sleep schedule will go a long way in safeguarding your physical and mental health, as well as keeping accusations of ‘sleeping on the job’ or suboptimal care from clients at bay. Even if you have health insurance and/or the home health care agency you work for has liability insurance, it is always better to be safe now than sorry later.