by Kevin Gardner, Guest Contributor

More than 15 million Americans work night shifts. They drive Ubers, respond to emergencies, provide IT support, answer international customer calls, clean buildings or trade stocks. In addition to these night owls, there are also college students pulling all-nighters or artists staying up until dawn finishing their masterpiece. And there are certainly benefits to staying up late. Studies show that some people are biologically programmed to stay awake at night, and report increased strength in the later hours. Scientists have also found links between creativity and staying up late

However, there is more research stacked against the night owl life. According to the World Economic Forum, working nights can impact relationships, social lives and even your health. Working at night affects your natural circadian rhythms. This internal clock works with your biology to determine when you should feel alert (day time) and when you should feel sleepy (night time). These rhythms work with the sun, which is why you tend to get sleepier as darkness begins to fall. Night owls must fight against their bodies’ natural urges and constantly try to remain alert. 

Working the Night Shift

This can get especially dangerous for anyone regularly working the night shift, like those working in law enforcement. According to the American Psychological Association, more than 40 percent of police officers work more than 12 hours a day, and most suffer from a sleep disorder like insomnia or excessive drowsiness. So how much sleep do you really need? And how long can you go without sleep?

While sleep requirements vary from person to person, most adults require an average of seven to nine hours of sleep a night. And it’s not just a numbers game—the quality of your sleep matters too. During deep sleep and REM sleep, your brain and body builds up energy for the following day. You can ensure you’re well-stocked on REM sleep by avoiding alcohol, nicotine, and being awoken during the night. 

Importance of Amount of Sleep

If you’re getting less than eight hours of sleep per night, you might be sleep-deprived. And you’re not the only one. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep. This becomes especially dangerous, because sleep deprivation can hit after the first sleepless night. Chances are, night owls are all experiencing some form of sleep deprivation. This can appear in a variety of ways including:

  • Reliance on an alarm clock
  • Fatigue and lack of motivation
  • Concentration impairment 
  • Inability to cope with difficult situations 
  • Weaken immune systems
  • Decreased sex drive 

According to Healthline, even staying awake for 24 hours can affect your brain and body, though most symptoms go away after the subsequent night of shut-eye. Missing 36 hours of sleep can become more dangerous, and after just three to four nights without sleep, you will begin to hallucinate. After two nights of missed sleep, your body begins to compensate with “micro-sleep,” which is a period of involuntary light sleep that lasts about 30 seconds, causing confusion and disorientation. 

A Better Way

While scientists preach the importance of a full eight hours of sleep during the night, the necessity of night workers is still prevalent. But is there a solution?

Charmane Eastman, PhD, a psychologist at Rush University, presents two solutions. The first is symptomatic relief; or, consuming stimulants like caffeine at night, and sedatives during the day. The second way is to work against your circadian clock and shift its biological structure so it can tolerate an opposite schedule. 

Eastman discovered that, through a combination of exposing night workers to intermittent bright lights during their shift and having them sleep in an entirely darkened bedroom, the circadian rhythm can shift within a week. However, this approach only works if the person works consistent night shift hours. 

If you’re voluntarily living the night owl life, it might be time to reexamine your sleeping schedules. Unless you want to  completely shift your circadian rhythms, leave yourself enough time at night to get your full eight hours of sleep. You will feel so much more well-rested and alert in the morning. 

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