Working the night shift can be rough. Sleeping during the day, working while everybody else is hanging out, missing the live broadcast of The Voice. Night work goes against the natural sway of your circadian rhythm — the internal clock that regulates biological processes and needs like hunger and sleep. But if you’re on the night shift, there are some things you can do to adjust to your sleep schedule.
Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine before going to bed. While you might be tempted to reach for a cup of coffee to keep you up through the early hours of your working day, avoid caffeinated beverages and other stimulants in the second half of your shift.
(Don’t) let the sunshine in.
Try to limit your exposure to light once your shift is over. Wear sunglasses on the way home, and avoid using your phone, TV, and other light-emitting electronic devices for at least an hour before your bedtime. These devices emit blue and blue-green light that has an especially disruptive effect on your circadian rhythm. Once you’re in bed, limit the light that enters your bedroom by hanging sun-blocking or blackout shades or curtains. Consider wearing an eye mask, too.
No loud noises.
Limit ambient noise. That means turning off your electronic devices and popping in some ear plugs. And ask others in your home to pipe down while you’re trying to sleep.
Low temperatures facilitate good sleep, so identify the coolest rooms in your home and set your bed up in there. If you have air conditioning, it may be peak hours depending on where you live, but it could be a big help.
Once you’re in bed, if you’re having trouble getting to sleep, focus on pleasurable, relaxing thoughts, and try to put your worries to bed, too. Imagine yourself walking through your favorite park, visiting a favorite place, being somewhere relaxing, safe, and comfortable.
Nap. But keep it short.
As we’ve said before, napping may be helpful in certain cases. But be careful about napping during your shift, as “sleep inertia” – feelings of grogginess and impaired decision-making – can persist for up to an hour after your nap.
Stay on schedule.
If at all possible, avoid frequent schedule changes. It can take several days for your circadian rhythm to adjust to the late shift, and if you switch back to working days, your circadian rhythm will have to readjust yet again, wreaking havoc with your sleep cycle. Eventually, your body will go on strike… so talk to your manager about the possibility of maintaining a regular schedule so that your circadian rhythm can align to a regular work routine.
Make healthy choices.
A diet based primarily around fruits, nuts, and vegetables will give you the energy you need to make it through the late shift and ensure a good sleep after you’re out of work. Including regular physical activity in your daily routine will also keep you healthy and energized while allowing you to sleep better. Try to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine by, for instance, walking or riding your bike instead of driving your car.
Just say no. (If you can.)
Sure, there are ways to help your body cope with the night shift. But no matter how much sleep you get during the day, it’s always best to avoid working the night shift if possible. Humans have evolved to be active during the day and sleep at night, so you might pay a cost for adjusting to a nocturnal schedule. But if you have to do it, do your body right and try out all of our tips. And consider getting a natural, luxury mattress to help ease your sleepless days, too.