It is super important to maintain a good sleep schedule when working shifts. When you work a mixture of nights, twilights and days in short succession, like I do, it is even more important. Below are my tips for maintenance of a good sleep schedule.
Before the first night shift
Taper your sleep-wake cycle towards the new schedule. Do this over a few days if possible. Your body can cope with a shift of 2-3 hours without a problem. This works for both night and twilight shifts
Take a nap before your shift to reduce sleepiness.
- If you’re an early bird like me you can have a longish nap of a few hours.
- Night owls probably find it more difficult to sleep in the afternoon without waking groggy, so should only nap for 20-30 mins.
- When you sleep for 30-40 mins you enter deep REM sleep, this reduces your sleep debt but it can take you up to an hour to be fully awake again.
Try to be in areas with bright light immediately before and during the first part of the shift.
Eat a small healthy meal or snack at the same time in your shift, this promotes a regular body cycle.
Mid shift, have a power nap of approx 30 mins. A power nap is more effective than coffee for improving alertness. Only have caffeine early in your shift, then you will be able to sleep properly once you get home.
Check out my other post here for tips to stay healthy when working nights.
After the Shift
You are at much higher risk of an accident during the drive home after a night shift. Try public transport, car pooling or a taxi. If there is no alternative to driving then vary the route from what you would normally take. You will concentrate more and not be driving on autopilot. If you feel tired, try a short nap before heading off.
Daylight is a signal to the body to stay awake, wear dark glasses on the way home to encourage the production of melatonin and prepare your body for sleep.
Protect your sleep after your shifts. Follow the same bedtime routine whether you are on nights or days. This helps your body with pattern recognition. The following could be part of your wind-down routine; light snack, warm bath, brush teeth, soothing music, relaxation exercises, or meditation.
Avoid having an alarm clock or other clock where you can see it. Looking at the time can make you anxious and you will sleep poorly if you are watching the clock.
Use blackout curtains or blinds and an eye mask/ear plugs.
Soundproof your room with good double glazing, thick carpets and heavy curtains, also consider wall insulation.
Keep a visible record of your sleep and work schedule somewhere prominent. Your partner/family/housemates can see it so they don’t inadvertently wake you up.
Try to find some time for exercise. If you are physically fit then your body can cope with changes to the body clock better and you will feel less fatigued overall.
If you are trying to return to a natural day shift pattern bright lights can boost alertness. Get a light alarm clock or a light box that will mimic the suns spectrum and intensity to reset your sleep-wake cycle (aim for ~2500 lux vs. normal lighting ~150 lux).