College of DuPage Nursing Student Alyssa Spingola asks, “What is a circadian rhythm?” Your personal circadian rhythm is like an internal 24-hour clock that is affected and adjusted by your outside surroundings. It is controlled by the light and dark of the day and night. If this cycle is altered you will experience difficulties with sleeping, the ability to stay awake, or a decreased quality of sleep.
Nursing students and medical professionals experience this shift in their circadian rhythm throughout their careers. This is due to the ever-changing world and schedules they have to adjust each week. There are many studies trying to look at the internal effect it is having on our body systems as well. These systems include neurological, cardiac, and endocrine systems.
How are your body and circadian rhythm affected?
If we think about nursing students and newly licensed nurses, they are often put on the night shifts or rotating shifts. This means that they are now forced to be awake when their bodies are used to being asleep and quickly have to change back to days from week to week. They have seen sleep disturbances, physiological impact, health issues, nutrition, and general functioning issues. These symptoms and effects will be different from person to person, but they are all showing the effects of your circadian rhythm is changed. These symptoms may be seen as fatigue, mood alterations, obesity, diabetes, and difficulty concentrating. We want to make sure our medical professionals are at the top of their ability to be able to help the community. However, this can be very difficult when trying to adjust to the new way of work schedules.
What can you do to help?
They are not able to change night shift times versus day shift times because the healthcare field needs to be staffed 24/7, 365 days a year. So how do we help healthcare professionals from burning out from their crazy schedules? Simple changes can be made to help you adjust including; light exposure, plan a napping schedule, exercise, and make mindful food choices. You want to minimize your light exposure before going to sleep to help with the darkness effect, but you want to sit by light and be exposed for about 20 minutes before your shift to help your body recognize the light and wake up. According to studies, when you change your light exposure, you may experience the positive effects of your alertness, physical fitness, and sleep balance. Planning short naps that align with your circadian rhythm can help improve alertness throughout your night shifts.
When making mindful decisions about what you eat and put into your body, along with exercise, can help with your energy levels and reduce the risks for future health problems. These new changes may not be completely life-changing, however, one step at a time can help readjust your circadian rhythm to help you be a first responder and change the world, one patient, at a time.