In the middle of the night 5 million people in the U-S are on the job. . . awake at 3 a-m — running our hospitals, our factories — we depend on them to keep our society running smoothly. But they’re also bucking their natural biological clock. Researchers at Oregon Health Sciences University are testing a pill that can help them sleep during the day when their brain says: “NO WAY.”
It’s 7:20 a-m and Carrie’s not starting her shift — she’s ending it.
Carrie, Shift Worker:
“That’s all I think about when I’m getting towards the end of my shift. I’m exhausted. I just want to go home and go to bed.”
Carrie works the graveyard shift at a hospital. And like many of her co-workers she says trying to sleep during the day can be tough.
“There’s a point where you almost get frantic. I want to sleep so badly, you just keep waking up and waking up.”
That’s because we all have an internal biological clock that tells us when to get up and when to sleep. It’s regulated by a natural hormone called melatonin.
“It’s the chemical essence of darkness. It’s the Dracula hormone to some people like to call it. It’s made only at night in the dark and it acts the opposite to light. When we give melatonin to people we’re trying to trick their brain into thinking that it’s night.”
Doctors are testing that theory on shiftworkers like Carrie. For two weeks she took a small dose of synthetic melatonin when she got home from work. . . and she says it’s helped.
“I noticed I was sleeping clear til the time I had to get my kids at school around 3. It’s 3:00 and I really slept my whole time. It’s wonderful.”
In fact Carrie calls melatonin a no-hangover sleeping aid. Doctors say she’s just resetting her body clock — naturally.
As you get older, doctors say your melatonin levels decline and one of the next steps in research is to test whether giving elderly people melatonin will boost their levels and improve their sleep.