The Secret To Setting A Shift Work Sleep Schedule

Getting a consistent good night’s rest can seem hard for all of us. Most advice caters to those of us working the traditional 9 to 5. What about the millions of North Americans working night shifts?

Our bodies are naturally wired to be awake during the day and asleep at night. This is due to the strong influence our circadian rhythms play on our bodies. If your job requires you to be up at night, this presents a challenge. If you don’t adequately adjust your sleep schedule, you may find yourself exhausted when you need to be awake, but insomnia stricken when you need to be asleep!

Here are some simple steps you can take to help your body adjust to the night shift.

Why A Sleep Schedule Matters – In Particular, For Night Shift Workers

We tend to think our bodies can get used to just about anything. While this may be true in some cases, drastically changing your sleep schedule can take quite a toll. Poor sleep isn’t just an annoyance – it can also be seriously dangerous. Safety risks increase when workers’ sleep is compromised, as it affects our reaction time and decision making skills!

Whether or not you work with heavy machinery, accidents as a result of sleep deprivation are a real threat! It is possible to mediate some of the negative side effects and lessen the transition period as your body gets used to an altered sleep/wake schedule. One way you can avoid being fatigued on the night shift is by setting a sleep schedule.

How To Set A Sleep Schedule

The first thing you should do is set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. This will make it easier to fall asleep, and easier to wake up on time! If you need to adjust these times significantly, try moving them in 20 minute increments over several days. Sometimes shifting them a lot at once can leave us frustrated and unable to sleep, while smaller movements are more tolerable.

When it comes to napping, be cautious. In general, it’s better to consolidate your sleep into one 7 to 8 hour block. That said, a 15-20 minute nap partway through your shift (if your job allows for one) can help refresh you for the rest of it. Likewise, a brief nap before the commute home can help you stay more alert.

Light is a powerful tool when it comes to regulating your sleep. Try exposing yourself to bright light when you wake up (either sunlight or artificial light, depending on the timing), and keep your workspace brightly lit. At the end of your shift, avoid bright light if you can. Opt for dark sunglasses if the sun is out, and limit the number of lights you turn on at home before you go to bed. Black-out curtains and an eye-mask can also make a big difference!

Whenever possible, stick to your sleep schedule as much as possible, even on days off. Ideally, you shouldn’t move your sleep and wake times by more than 2 hours at once, as this can throw off your newly found schedule and force your body to adjust all over again.

Other Tips for Shift Workers

If you work rotating shifts, see if your manager is willing to schedule your shifts so that new shifts start at either the same time, or later, than the last one. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends this “clockwise” scheduling, because your body will have an easier time adjusting when shifts move in this direction.

Want more ideas? We’ve put together a free Shift Work Guide, full of proven ways to make shift work work for your lifestyle! Get in touch with us for more details.