Shift Work

The modern workplace requires some people to try to accommodate the unnatural schedule of shift work — being awake at night and sleeping during the day.

Shift Work

Shiftwork: How to adjust to daytime sleeping

It is common to have difficulties sleeping during the day. Humans are naturally wired to sleep best at night and be awake during the day. However, the modern workplace requires some people to try to accommodate the unnatural schedule of shift work — being awake at night and sleeping during the day.

In order to make this adjustment, you need to pay special attention to your sleep environment and your preparation for sleep. If shift work is a necessary part of your work life, here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, several hours before bedtime. If you are working nights and need to sleep from morning until afternoon, try to avoid caffeine after midnight.
  • Arrange to sleep uninterrupted in a quiet, dark room. This means you may have to turn off or unplug your phone, hang darkening curtains on the windows or wear a sleep eye mask, make appointments outside of your sleep period, and train your family and friends to leave you alone while you sleep. Make your sleep time sacred.
  • Try melatonin. Some studies suggest that taking 1 to 3 milligrams of melatonin improves the quality and duration of daytime sleep in night shift workers.
  • Fit in a nap. When your daytime sleep period is too short, taking a nap just before work or on a break during your night shift has been shown to improve alertness and reduce accidents while on the job.
  • Develop and follow a sleep routine. It's best if you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Try not to vary this too much on weekends. Your body likes routine.
  • Take extra care to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Shift workers tend to gain weight and have an increased risk of heart disease — mostly because they tend to eat fattier foods, smoke more and exercise less.
  • Set house rules. Speak with your family about your sleep schedule and why your sleep time is so important. Establish guidelines for everyone in your household to help maintain a peaceful sleeping environment such as wearing headphones to listen to music or watch TV, and avoiding vacuuming, dishwashing and noisy games.
  • Keep a sleep schedule. Let family and friends know your sleep schedule and ask them to call or visit at times that are convenient for you. Plan ahead for activities together.
  • Unplug the phone. Be sure unimportant calls don't wake you up. Unplug the phone in your bedroom and, if necessary, get a beeper so your family can reach you in an emergency.
  • Hang a do not disturb sign on your door. Make sure your family understands the conditions under which they should wake you. Make a deal with them. If they let you sleep, you will be less grumpy! And make sure delivery people and solicitors understand your sleeping rules by hanging a do not disturb sign on your front door, too.

Sleep Tip

Use a sleep diary and talk to your doctor. Note what type of sleep problem Read More...

If you have tried all these things and are still having problems getting enough quality sleep during the day, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist. Sometimes medications may be helpful and safe. In other cases, there may be an underlying sleep disorder that needs to be addressed.