The Best Sleep Schedule for Night Shift Workers: Tips and Tricks
Read this article to discover the best sleep schedule for night shift workers and learn how to optimize your sleep for better health and productivity.
If you’re a night shift worker, then you’re no stranger to unique sleep challenges. Irregular work hours make it hard to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. This can lead to sleep deprivation. And in turn, increase your risk of health problems like heart disease, obesity and depression, to name a few.
Also, you likely have a harder time than most drifting off and staying asleep. You’re exposed to daytime light and noise, which can disrupt your sleep patterns.
Another challenge faced by night shift workers is your body's natural circadian rhythm. This internal clock regulates sleep and wakefulness and is influenced by light and darkness.
For most, the circadian rhythm aligns with the day-night cycle. It’s easier to fall asleep at night and stay awake during the day. But night shift workers must deal with a schedule that goes against their body's natural rhythm.
Also, everybody deserves time well spent with family and friends. Night shift workers struggle to maintain a work-life balance, which can complicate their sleep schedule even more.
However, there are ways to deal with these challenges. And an important one is to create and maintain the best sleep schedule for night shift workers.
Understanding the Importance of Sleep for Night Shift Workers
Getting enough quality sleep counts a lot towards your physical, mental, and emotional health. It plays a critical role in your body's ability to repair itself and regulate mood, appetite and energy levels. It helps your brain consolidate memories, too.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s important for night shift workers to prioritize sleep. They’re more at risk for sleep deprivation, which can lead to other health issues. Here are a few:
Impaired cognitive function
In a nutshell, night shift workers must prioritize their sleep and find ways to make sure they get the rest they need. By making and sticking to the best sleep schedule, they can minimize the negative effects of sleep deprivation. And have the energy to be productive in the wee hours.
Factors Influencing the Best Sleep Schedule for Night Shift Workers
The best sleep schedule for night shift workers depends on several factors. Individual sleep needs, the demands of their job, and personal circumstances, to name a few. In this section, we’ll discuss each so you can create a sleep schedule that works for you.
First, recognize your sleep needs and plan your schedule around that. While the average adult needs about 7 to 9 hours, you may be someone who can function on slightly less sleep. Or if that doesn’t cut it, something closer to 10.
Second, think about the demands of your job. Does it require you to be extra alert? Is it physically demanding? Or do your tasks keep you more or less sedentary?
The nature of your work may influence what time you sleep and how long you do. It’ll also help you determine if you need to nap. Or if you need extra help from natural sleep aids.
And finally, consider your family and social commitments. You’ll need to balance your sleep needs with time spent with loved ones and other activities.
So, take all of these factors into account when you plan your sleep schedule. It needs to complement your unique needs by keeping you healthy, energetic and productive.
Creating the Ultimate Sleep Schedule for Night Shift Workers
If you want to develop the best sleep schedule for night shift workers, you need to be consistent with your routine. But we aren’t going to leave you without help here. Check out these tips:
Determine your individual sleep needs.
Remember that sleep varies from one person to the next. Assess how much zzzs you need to function well and use this as a baseline for your schedule.
Establish a set sleep schedule.
Again, consistency is the magic ingredient when it comes to a sleep schedule for night shift workers. (And anyone else for that matter.)
Develop a sleep routine that factors in how many hours of sleep you need daily. And stick to this schedule as closely as possible, even on your days off.
Create a sleep-friendly environment.
Apart from a comfy mattress and bedding, there are 3 factors to making your bedroom conducive to sleep. It should be dark, cool and quiet.
Let’s start with the first: a dark sleep environment. In case you didn’t know it, light signals your body that it’s time to be up and alert. Darkness does the opposite. It triggers the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This in turn helps you wind down for bed.
When it comes to temperature, your room should be cool. The optimal sleep temperature is 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. And because you’re likely sleeping in the daytime heat, consider a cooling system.
Finally, keep things quiet. Otherwise, you’ll wake up frequently, which lowers your sleep quality. Soundproof your room or invest in a pair of earplugs.
Take naps when needed.
Naps can be a valuable tool for night shift workers like you. If you feel your energy levels dropping and you’re struggling to stay awake, consider adding a nap to your sleep schedule.
Twenty to 30 minutes tops, if you’re working an 8-hour shift, is good enough. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention says to take a 2 to 3-hour nap if your shift is over 12 hours(1).
Tips for Adjusting to a New Sleep Schedule
It can be tough transitioning to a new sleep schedule, especially one that’ll have you working overnight. But not to worry. Here are a couple of strategies that’ll make it easier to adjust.
Take it slow when shifting your sleep schedule.
Take it slow. This will help your body adapt to the new routine and reduce the risk of sleep disturbances.
Let's say you're currently working in the evening, but you'll soon switch to the night shift. Push back your bedtime and wake-up times by one or two hours each day during your remaining evening shifts.
Expose yourself to bright light during your shift.
Light exposure helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Do this during your night shift to tell your body that it's time to be up and alert. Light therapy lamps are helpful and widely available.
That said, it’s important to limit your exposure to bright light before sleep. This helps signal your body to wind down and get ready to hit the sack. One way to do this is to wear blue light-blocking glasses once you get home.
Develop a relaxing pre-bedtime routine.
Another way to encourage your body to wind down is to create a relaxing pre-bedtime routine. For instance, a warm bath followed by some light reading and meditation. And sticking to this routine trains your body to understand that it's time to call it a day.
Be patient. It’ll pay off.
It takes time to adjust to a new sleep schedule. And you can expect some sleep disturbances during the transition. Be patient with yourself and soon you’ll find that you’ve adjusted to the new routine.
How to Maintain Sleep Quality during an Overnight Shift
Okay, now that you know how to create a sleep schedule that works for you. Let’s move on to maintaining sleep quality while you’re working the overnight shift. Check out these tips.
Create a sleep-friendly work environment.
If naps are part of your game plan, treat your work area like your bedroom. Now that might sound difficult, but there are ways to block out light and noise. Earplugs and a good sleep mask will do wonders.
Take regular breaks.
It’s good to work hard but remember that everyone deserves a break or more. Take a couple of short ones during your shift to prevent fatigue and stay alert.
Stretch, move around, do deep breathing exercises or nap. All these will help recharge you.
Stay hydrated and eat healthy food.
Drink enough water throughout your shift. And forego junk and choose nutritious food like whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and veggies. These will boost your energy levels and overall health.
Engage in regular physical activity by incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Consider incorporating movement breaks into your shift to help maintain energy levels and alertness.
Cool it on the caffeine and booze.
We won’t lie. Coffee and soda can make you feel more energetic. But it's temporary. And going overboard will likely make it harder for you to drift off and stay asleep when it’s time to rest.
It’s a common misconception that alcohol can help you sleep. Try not to be tempted to grab a drink after work. While you might fall asleep faster, your sleep quality will dip.
If you need an energy boost, check out the strategies in the next section.
How to Stay Productive During the Night Shift
Apart from optimizing your sleep schedule, there are also ways to stay energetic and productive during a night shift. Here are a few.
Keep on top of your tasks by making to-do lists. A clear plan helps you stay focused and productive. And prioritize the most difficult task for when your energy is highest.
Having a positive mindset keeps you motivated and productive during your night shift. Keep a stack of motivational quotes and make sure to read one (or more) a day. Practice positive self-talk to help you maintain this mindset, too.
Reach out to friends or co-workers who also work the night shift for support and encouragement. It isn’t just about getting but giving, too.
Share tips and strategies for staying energetic and productive. And lean on each other when things get challenging.
How to Balance Your Personal Life and Sleep Schedule as a Night Shift Worker
A challenge faced by night shift workers like you is striking a balance between your sleep schedule and social life. Yes, it’s important to prioritize sleep. But it’s also essential to stay connected with friends and family.
Here are a few tips that might help.
Communicate your needs.
Tell friends and family about your unique sleep schedule, Be open to them about the challenges it presents. Chances are they’ll be understanding and supportive of your need for rest and recovery.
Schedule social activities wisely.
Think smart when you’re planning social activities. Schedule them for times you’re most likely to be awake and energetic. Before or after your shift are suggestions.
And while you’re mingling and having fun, be mindful of your energy levels. Learn when to step back and avoid committing to activities that’ll interfere with your sleep schedule.
There might be times when you’ll need to adjust your sleep schedule for important events. Weddings or family gatherings are examples.
Be ready to make temporary adjustments to your sleep routine. And give your body time to recover afterward.
Start new traditions.
Can’t seem to find the time for social activities due to your sleep schedule? Then create new social traditions. For instance, why not host a regular breakfast for friends or family after your shift?
Sleep Aids and Supplements for Night Shift Workers
When sleeping well gets extra challenging, night shift workers might benefit from using sleep aids or supplements. These may help improve your sleep quality. Here are a few options to consider.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. It’s especially helpful for night shift workers who need to adjust their sleep schedule. It’s available in supplement form. Take it before bedtime to promote sleep.
Prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids can help night shift workers who struggle with falling or staying asleep. But it’s crucial to take these only with consent from your doctor. Some may have side effects or are habit-forming.
They don’t just smell great, they help you wind down for bed, too. Essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, or valerian root can help promote relaxation for better sleep quality. These oils can be diffused or applied topically with a carrier oil before bedtime.
Herbs like passionflower or ashwagandha supposedly have sedative effects and can help promote sleep. But, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider before taking any herbal supplements. They might interact with other medications you’re taking or have side effects.
White noise machines
White noise machines might help block out external noises and promote relaxation. They’re particularly useful for night shift workers who need to sleep during the day when external noises may be more disruptive.
You might want to try Manta SLEEP Mask Sound. It’s a 100% blackout sleep mask that houses Bluetooth speakers. Pair it with your white noise app and fall asleep to soothing sounds and complete darkness.
Creating the best sleep schedule for night shift workers can be a challenge. But it’s worth the effort because it’ll help you stay healthy, energetic, and productive.
Develop a consistent sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible. It’s important to prioritize rest and recovery so you have the energy for work and your personal life.
It’s true there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for optimizing sleep for night shift workers. But hopefully, the strategies and tips we outlined in this article can serve as a starting point.
Let us know if this article helps you create a sleep schedule that works for you. Drop a comment below.
(1) “NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours.” CDC, www.cdc.gov/niosh/work-hour-training-for-nurses/longhours/mod7/08.html. Accessed 24 April 2023.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website or provided through our blog, e-mails, or programs is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment that can be provided by your healthcare professionals.