The Early Morning Coffee Paradox

As every shift worker will testify, waking up in the middle of the night to go to work is never easy.  The body’s natural instinct during the night is to be sound asleep. A day in the life of a shift worker often means that it is not possible to sleep during ‘normal’ times of the night and this has a massive impact on the natural circadian rhythm of the body.  One of my colleagues recently described working a variety of shifts as ‘constantly living with jetlag’.  According to NHS Choices jet lag is ‘experienced while adapting to a different light-dark schedule following a flight to a new time zone’ Although I had never thought about this before, being forced to wake up at significantly different times throughout the week probably does have a similar effect.

You might think that the most effective way to combat this natural instinct would be to drink coffee until you can handle no more. However, in the last few months I have found that avoiding my favourite pick-me-up first thing in the morning is a more effective tactic.  During my first few months in my current job I tried to drink coffee first thing in the morning then have a coffee later on in the day during my lunch break.  It transpires that I may have been unintentionally placing myself at a disadvantage.  I recently read this interesting article from The Sydney Morning Herald which indicates that drinking coffee first thing in the morning may have the opposite effect to the one desired due to cortisol (or ‘stress hormone’) levels in the body.

When working long shifts which start in the early hours of the morning I have found that eating little and often throughout the day, complimented by a coffee in the early afternoon is a better tactic for sustaining energy.  Achieving a balance between wakefulness during the ‘day’ and being able to drop back off to sleep when everyone else is just getting in from work is, however, more difficult to achieve.  I often find myself tossing and turning until 9pm before I finally drop off to sleep before waking just five hours later for another twelve hour shift…

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