Top 4 Sleep Hygiene Tips for Night Shift Workers

This post was most recently updated on January 20th, 2023

If you have ever worked on a shifting schedule, you probably know about the challenges that come with sleeping. Perhaps after your first-ever graveyard or night shift, you found it difficult to get some shuteye upon returning home with the sun already up. 

Medical worker on night shift

When this becomes a regular dilemma, you could face the consequences of sleep deprivation, which then leads to various issues with your health. Sleep deprivation and insomnia can cause a whole host of health concerns, some of which include mental distress, obesity, and hypertension, or high blood pressure (BP). 

Apart from fatigue and irritability, lack of sleep can cause hormone imbalances that lead to increased appetite, overeating, sluggishness, and of course, altapresyon.

With much of sleep hygiene practices revolving around resting comfortably in the dark, how do you get good quality sleep despite your job requirement? This article will give you tips on how to do just that and, hopefully, help you sleep better without sacrificing your professional life.

Condition Yourself to Sleep Upon Getting Home

You may be tempted to scroll endlessly through social media or play a mobile game after your shift, but it’s better to skip those pursuits and focus on sleep. Going straight to bed after work minimizes your exposure to light, especially sunlight which can trigger your wakefulness and keep you from falling asleep. 

Once you clock out, condition yourself mentally to sleep to avoid distractions that drive you to stay awake. If you find it hard to fall asleep upon arriving at your house, it may help to establish a routine of doing relaxing things such as taking a warm shower, journaling, or doing yoga—anything to chill out and clear your head.

Keep Your Environment Dark and Comfy

As mentioned earlier, light exposure plays a big role in triggering wakefulness and inducing sleep. This is because light exposure impacts your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. As such, it’s best to keep your sleeping environment as “nighttime” as possible, even with the morning sun outside. 

This means keeping your bedroom comfortably dark and minimizing exposure to light sources, including your TV and digital devices. 

To replicate the night environment, you may want to invest in black-out curtains to keep the outside light from permeating your space. It would also help to put on a sleeping mask, listen to ambient white noise, or wear earplugs. 

To prevent your sleep from getting disrupted, it may be ideal to make your bed as comfortable as possible and remind people in the house to be considerate of your sleep hours.

Prolong Your Bedtime

Most of the time, night-shift staff experience poorer quality of sleep because of the tendency to spend less time in bed. This causes a “sleep debt” or the need to pay back lost sleep, which causes irregular shifts in your sleeping pattern. 

To maintain a normal circadian rhythm, make sleeping your priority and sleep for as long as you can. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), around seven to nine hours of bedtime is the standard for adults aged 18 to 64. It would be wise to commit to that number of hours every day. 

If you’re still having trouble with that, you may want to ask your doctor if taking melatonin supplements is right for you. Essentially, taking melatonin supplements any time during your workday may help induce sleep once work is done. That said, you must remember to block out light if you intend to take melatonin for sleep. 

As we have already established, light exposure can halt melatonin production, preventing you from getting enough rest.

Watch What You Eat and Drink

Your eating habits, along with the food and beverages you consume, play a big role in how well you sleep post-shift. With this, it’s best to avoid heavy meals and eat light dishes frequently to avoid overeating and getting drowsy at work. You may also want to avoid foods that are hard to digest, such as spicy and fried food. 

Instead of these, go for foods such as pasta, salads, rice, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and bread.

While caffeine helps keep you awake during a night shift, it’s ideal to consume caffeinated drinks moderately to avoid over-wakefulness and potential digestive problems. If you find yourself craving another cup of coffee to stave off drowsiness, you can keep yourself hydrated the healthy way by drinking lots of water or consuming natural fruit juices.

Keeping Sleep on the Spotlight

Shift workers are sometimes called “zombies” with their nontraditional work hours and resulting demeanor. Still, working through the night doesn’t have to turn you into a zombie and damage your health. Aside from the tips mentioned in this list, you can work toward more restful sleep on the clock through a few smart strategies. 

For instance, you can “train” your body to stay awake at night by increasing your exposure to light. During your breaks, make it a point to move around, even if it’s within your work area. And if possible, take 10-20 minute naps to rest your eyes. 

We all know how important it is to make a living and do your job properly. But at the end of the day, your health comes first. As long as you apply good sleep hygiene practices, you can achieve a better quality of life and remain productive even in challenging work settings.

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Written by Dr. Ganga Sapkota
Updated on January 20, 2023

A graduated medical physician with years of experience in the medical field. Working as a full-time physician in Puspanjali Hospital, Chitwan, Nepal.