Try these tips for keeping the sandman at bay when you just have to be awake.
Staying up late can be tough on the body, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Maybe you’re working late, or you might need to stay up for a one-time event like a family trip or a kid’s sleepover or even adjust your sleep schedule to accommodate a new night shift assignment. Either way, there are tricks you can use to successfully become a night owl.
Keep in mind that success is relative when it comes to staying up late. The longer you’re up, the more your mind and body will feel the effects of sleep deprivation. “Our bodies are programmed to sleep during the night and be awake and alert during the day,” said Christopher Drake, PhD, a sleep researcher at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit. “When we try to stay up late and sleep during the day, we are working against our own bodies.”
Officer Shane Sevigny can testify to that. During the summer he works the graveyard shift patrol for the Salem Police Department in Salem, Ore., which runs from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
“As you get older, it’s harder,” said Sevigny, 47. “I have a harder time sleeping during the day. My body clock would like to be sleeping at night. I have experience doing it, but going back and forth is the hardest for me, especially if it’s for a short time. I just don’t feel rested.”
6 Ways to Stay Up Late
If you’re pulling a single all-nighter or trying to adjust to a night shift, there are some basic ways you can improve your chances of staying up late.
Nap beforehand. Either sleep a little longer each night before your late night or grab an afternoon nap that day. “One can bank sleep,” Drake said. “Prior to your all-nighter, get nine hours of sleep a night for a week and bank some sleep.”
Keep busy. People who stay busy while they are sleepy tend to rally, pushing sleepiness aside because they are interested in the new task. That’s what helps Sevigny get through the night. He’s happy that his night shifts start on Friday and Saturday, typically the busiest nights for police officers. “If we stay busy, you don’t even notice it until you’re done with your shift and you’re on your way home,” he said.
Use caffeine…the right way. Caffeine is an effective aide for staying up late. However, just chugging one big caffeinated beverage at the start of the shift will not help you through the whole evening. “My recommendation is not to utilize a giant Venti Starbucks but to use small doses equally spaced throughout the night shift,” Drake said. “That will help maintain alertness throughout the shift but also avoid people having significant sleep disturbance once they are home and ready for bed.”/p>
Nap smart at night. Taking a short half-hour nap during a shift can be effective, but some people will feel sluggish afterward. Drake’s solution: Drink an 8-ounce cup of coffee, which is about 75 milligrams of caffeine, before your nap. “Taking a small cup of coffee right before one takes that short nap will eliminate the sleep inertia effect,” he said.
Stay in bright light. Light has a powerful effect on your internal clock, and bright light can temporarily fake the body into thinking it’s not yet time for bed. “That circadian clock has connections to the eye, and bright light can reset our internal clock,” said William Kohler, MD, medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Fla. “That clock is what tells us when we’re alert and when we’re tired.” Stay in extremely well-lit rooms or intermittently use a light box that produces between 2,000 and 10,000 lux./p>
Prepare for 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. Banking sleep will get you only so far through the night, however. “You can’t escape the negative effects of the circadian clock,” Drake said. “One is going to be sleepy around 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. because that is the sleepiest time of the day.” Be prepared to feel extremely sleepy in the hours just before dawn and use all possible countermeasures to help you stay awake.
Adjusting Your Schedule
Switching to a regular night shift schedule takes more effort. You have to work hard to fool your mind and body, and even then you must expect that it won’t be completely successful. Sleeping during the day is fundamentally different from night sleep.
Keeping that in mind, people who need to work night shifts should try these strategies:
Establish a fake day-night cycle. A 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that night shift nurses were best able to adjust to the schedule if they exposed themselves to extremely bright light during the beginning of their shift and then wore dark glasses after the shift. You can extend this effect by using a sleep mask and earplugs once you’re in bed.
Don’t try to sleep all at once. Many people make the mistake of trying to replicate night sleep during the day. “Most night shift workers will go to sleep within 10 or 15 minutes, but after four hours, their sleep becomes fragmented,” Drake said. “They fall asleep and wake up and fall asleep and wake up. It’s probably better to use two sleep periods that last three or four hours. Don’t try to stay in bed. Get up and do what you need to do. Run errands. After three or four hours of wakefulness, take another three- or four-hour nap before going back to work.”
Avoid alcohol. The idea of a nightcap doesn’t work during the day (nor does it work at night). Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it can cause disturbances that ruin the quality of your sleep.
By Dennis Thompson, Jr