I often hear from First Responders that coming home after a night shift in the winter (when it’s dark) it’s much easier to fall asleep vs. in the summer when the sun is already out? Officers that work day shift don’t seem to have it any easier. If they are home and lucky to be able to go to bed before the sun sets, it’s again tough for them to get to sleep. (that is, if their stress management system hasn’t gotten to the point where they are tired and wired all the time)
Do you know why this happens?
It’s caused by the blue light emitted from the sun. The same lights that come from our phones, tablets and other devices and screens.
Did you know that this blue light stimulates a part of your brain sending stress/energy hormones into your body?
And when you have these hormones floating around in your body your brain thinks it’s time to wake up and it stops producing melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep hormone and increases your wakening/energy hormones causing that tired and wired feeling where you toss and turn for hours before your mind finally (hopefully) slows down and you can get to sleep.
It can take up to 2 hours before your melatonin is finally released and your energy hormones slow down after looking away from your screens, devices and the sun and it can affect how deep of a sleep you get into and how regulated your sleep cycle is.
Have you ever noticed that after reading an eBook or emails your brain can’t shut off and go to sleep easily, whereas you can’t keep your eyes open to read a real paper book to your child?
Knowing this, why can’t we stop 2 hours before hand?
There is an explanation…
When something good happens a chemical called dopamine is released in our brain giving us a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. It’s like a reward system and plays a heavy part in addictions.
Think of it like a dog with dog treats. Every time the dog sees the treats it’s tail wags, mouth opens; he gets so excited. As soon as he gobbles up the treat he wants another because he wants that dopamine hit again.
This is what happens when we are on our devices as well. Every time we see something we like, our brain gives us a hit of dopamine. It feels good and we want more.
Over time posts and purchases that gave us that dopamine hit become boring and don’t excite us like they used to. So, we keep scrolling and searching and buying things in order to find the thing that is going to give us that dopamine hit.
Have you ever told yourself that after this next post, or purchase or game or netflix series that you are going to turn it off and go to bed only to find 30, 60, 90 minutes have passed and you are still doing the exact same thing?
Or, you put your phone down to do something and without realizing it you went back and picked up your phone and didn’t get anything done that you wanted?
It’s like being sucked into a black hole the pull is so strong.
The best option is to turn off your phone and devices 2 hours before bed and put them in another room so the temptation to turn them back on is not there.
I also recommend turning off all notifications on your phone as well. That sound also signals dopamine. We’ve come to associate the alert with a like or comment on a post, or your friend texting with good news or plans. Our response is to stop whatever it is that we are doing in order to pick up the phone. It’s taking us away from quality time with our loved ones when we are looking at our phone every few minutes or replying to messages during dinner. It creates a situation where we are unable to get any down time at all..
Yes, I understand that this is not always realistic. But I’m going to guess that most of the time- even when we say that we need it on for work-that in between replying to emails or actually doing work, we are pulled away to scroll through our social media or search for something on amazon.
I struggle so hard with this and am FAR from perfect. I know, if I do not turn my phone off, that the pull is too strong for me to resist. All of a sudden my phone is in my hand and I’m scrolling again without realizing it. (Has that ever happened to you? It’s the oddest feeling, when you catch yourself doing it.) There is no other choice for me, but to turn my phone off and put it in the kitchen. If I don’t put it away to check it in the morning, I risk being tired and wired or missing my bed time because I am aimlessly scrolling and can’t pull away.
I know that maybe this is not possible for you because you have work to do or you need to keep your phone on because you are on call. No worries, you still have some options.
If you find yourself scrolling through facebook and instagram, in a seemingly automatic manner that is without thought or intention, then I’d like to ask you…
“What is more important?”
Allowing your sleep hormones to kick in and falling asleep (if your stress management system is strong enough to allow the hormones to kick in)
Spending your hard earned down-time on liking and commenting on posts?
When you can’t turn off your phone
When replying to emails, one trick is to open your email page and then turn off the wifi on your laptop. This will prevent any new emails from entering you inbox while you work. Answer all of the emails. Turn the wifi back on and send them and then turn off your laptop and walk away.
If you need to keep your phone on because you are on call, you may want to consider turning on the blue light filter app on your phone in case you have to look at the screen. Most newer phones have filters available as part of the display settings. Mine is an older android and does not, so I downloaded an app on Google play. I use Twilight, but you can use any app. I am sure new ones are available since I downloaded mine.
Set a timer that turns it on the same time each day, or turn it on manually when you need.
When on call, only turn on that specific notification, and remember to turn it off again when you are not on call. Or, if you are waiting for an email or message that is not an emergency priority on your days off, you can set an automatic reply to your emails that you will be checking them at 10h00 and 15h00 and will reply then. This gives you the rest of the day to shut your brain off and lets the other person know when you will reply.
These do not block 100% of the blue lights so it is advisable to turn off your device at least an hour before wanting to sleep.
How to block 100% of the blue light
If you are in communications/dispatch or another role where you are in front of a screen all day/night, you may want to get yourself some blue light blocking glasses.
The same goes for those of you who come home from working overnight when the sun is coming up.
These glasses have an orange/yellow tint to them and if you get a reputable company they can block 100% of the blue lights. Most services have optometry insurance. Either buy from your optometrist if it’s covered, or find out which companies they would recommend and then search online for the best price. Be cautious of buying on amazon as I don’t want you to waste money on the potential of buying glasses that do not block what they say they do.
Wear these all shift if you are in front of a screen or near the end of your shift if on nights and on the drive home only taking them off once in your dark bedroom. NOTE*** This is not suggested if you are tired and may fall asleep while driving.
I have a coating on my regular glasses that I requested when I ordered them from my optometrist. The lens is clear and no one knows it’s there. Unfortunately this does not block my eyes from 100% of the lights. It’s a suitable option for my needs, but if getting to sleep is your issue after shift, I would suggest going for the 100% blockage.
Does this work for everyone?
Being tired and wired, and struggling to fall asleep is usually caused by your cortisol (wakening/stress/energy hormones) and sleep hormone (melatonin) becoming confused as to when to turn on and off.
There are many layers to what is causing this.
How your body has been affected by the stress that’s been placed on it and where you are on the burnout and overdrive scale, determines if lifestyle changes are all that you need to get your sleep and wake hormones working when they should. Alternatively, you may need to support your stress management system first, to bring it back to full strength, before the lifestyle changes will give you long lasting effects.
Start immediately by implementing one or two of the suggestions in this article into your night routine. Once you are in bed, breathe very slowly in through your nose, focusing on filling your belly with air. Then slowly exhale through your nose, emptying your belly. See if you are able to turn off the tired and wired and have a more restful sleep.
One thing for sure is that our devices are a huge stress factor. Those of you that have been in my world a while, see that the more stressors you are able to control, allows your stress management system more bandwidth to handle the stresses that are out of your control.
Everyone in my 911 Elite Performance Program finds that eliminating these two triggers has a big effect on the quality of their sleep and stress levels overall.
Every stress trigger that you can control compounds over time. If you are not feeling the benefits right away, don’t give up. The longer you take this trigger out of your life, the less your stress management system is taxed. As you add more simple lifestyle changes such as these, your stress load decreases over time.
Things To Keep An Eye On
You have probably noticed that the healthy lifestyle habits that you read online and in magazines are often geared towards someone with a less stressed, Mon to Fri 9-5 life. These strategies are not built for First Responders who struggle with being tired and wired, waking mid sleep, exhausted, short fuse, brain fog, anxiety, digestive issues and a myriad of others signs of stress.
Eating at regular intervals, going to bed at the same time every night, and doing tough work outs is fine for someone who sat at a desk all day. But it may not be the best option for someone who carries their weight vest and equipment for a 12 hr shift of consistently rushing to calls.
This is what my 911 Elite Performance program is all about. First, we start by supporting your stress management system to get it back up to full strength and then we add in one lifestyle change at a time that are designed around your shift work schedule and considers the stresses of the job. By the end of the program you are able to fall asleep, stay asleep, have energy, motivation, stamina and recovery to thrive at work and at home with your family.
If you’d like my help, book a 911 Performance Assessment to see if 911 Elite Performance is for you.
The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.
About the author
Andi Clark is a mom, wife of a Police Officer and the founder of 911 Lifestyle.
Andi has a background in athletics including a 25+yr career as a personal trainer, nutrition and mindset coach to athletes and stressed out high end executives.
Being healthy and active was what she lived for. Until her body started waking absolutely exhausted, workouts become something to push through instead of enjoy. A short fuse crept in, motivation left and injuries seemed to be a part of life. All of this added up to the point that she had to stop all activity altogether.
Doctors, specialists and prescriptions were never able to fix the problem.
Once Andi realized she had a genetic stress condition that puts her body into an increased stress response state all the time (similar to what Police Officers and First Responders experience when they put on their uniform and have to mentally prepare for whatever may happen in their day) was she able to figure out what was happening and how to reverse it.
Through years of research and studying, Andi formulated a completely different way to thrive when your body is always functioning at higher than usual stress levels. One where it is possible to reverse and prevent an officer from getting to a point where they struggle to get through their days by taking a preventative approach instead of a reactive one. And one that reduces the negative effects of shift work on the body.
Through her husband’s career as an officer her focus has been on preventing burnout, exhaustion and a tanked immune system that she knew can result from high levels of stress that are out of your control.
As she watched his co-workers struggle with everything from sleep, exhaustion and anger leading to divorce, PTSD and even suicide it became apparent how LIFE-SAVING the foundations she was laying down for her husband actually were, because not only was he tolerating the shiftwork lifestyle, he was thriving in it.
Andi created 911 Lifestyle once she realized the strategies her husband was using MUST become available to all Police Officers and First Responders so they can peak during crisis, recover quickly after, have energy left over for their families and become the Elite First Responders that they were born to be.