A reader asks:
For about 3 decades I worked as an owner/ operator in a job that began at midnight while not finishing until 3pm “ish”, then 2 hours of paperwork until 5pm, a nap until 7 pm, up for my evening meal, then in bed by 9:30 pm to awake at 11:30pm to begin at midnight and repeat the process. This was a 4 day work week with Monday,Tuesday at work, Wednesday off (although more often than not maintenance and other necessary business work) Thursday, Friday work with Weekends off. After that ended I worked a job for 12 years with15 consecutive days on (13 – 14 hour days), 6 days off schedule with alternating day / night shifts.
I’ve been retired for almost 12 months now but my sleep cycle is ” messy” to say the least with the sleeping in 2 hour increments playing a big role in my night and often having issues falling back asleep for hours. In general I sleep “better” after 5 am and often feel like I require a nap (1.5 – 2 hours) in the afternoon. I wouldn’t be in the least opposed ( as you may have surmised) to suggestions or input on how to ease some of these issues.
Since the pattern that your sleep-wake rhythm has been subjected to over the past years has been deviating from a consolidated sleep-wake rhythm, the circadian system may need extra cues to shift back into such a consolidated rhythm. Chronotherapy offers several treatments that can help with this. Daily bright light therapy in the morning signals to the circadian system that it is daytime, while protective lenses that eliminate blue transmission in the evening may prevent daytime signals in the evening. Plenty of (natural) light exposure during the day might be beneficial, too. Additional things that may aid consolidated sleep-wake rhythms are structured feeding-fasting rhythms (try not to eat before the morning, and not to eat in the late evening), as well as exercise during the day but not in the evening. All these things listed above will be cues to the circadian system when it is day (and time to be active) and night (when to be passive). If possible, try to circumvent long daytime naps, as this (1) limits light exposure and (2) decreases sleep pressure. The limit in light exposure may distort the signal to the circadian system, while the decrease in sleep pressure will make it harder to sleep through the night.