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How to Sleep Better When Working Night Shifts

Wondering how to sleep better when working night shifts? Many people struggle to cope, but the good news is there are various things you can do. We’ve got you covered with some handy tips to help you deal with the frequent changes to your natural sleep cycle.

How to sleep after a night shift

  1. Cut back on screen time
  2. Reduce caffeine intake
  3. Block out all light
  4. Improve sleep environment
  5. Adjust the temperature
  6. Plan meals during your shift
  7. Increase exposure to sunlight
  8. Leave work at work
  9. Do more exercise
  10. Cut back on smoking and alcohol
  11. Practice relaxation techniques
  12. Set a bedtime routine
  13. Don’t nap too much

Can’t sleep after night shifts?

Why do so many of us struggle to sleep after night shifts?

Working night shifts disrupts your natural body clock, and getting to sleep when working against this can be difficult.

For nurses, for example, it can be difficult to maintain a regular sleep schedule, as well as achieve a good night’s rest1.

Remember, it’s not just about the amount of time you spend asleep, but the quality of your sleep is essential to making sure you feel rested and energised when you wake up. So, how can you get to sleep after a night shift?

How to sleep better when working a night shift

Here are some top tips to help you fall asleep, and stay asleep, whatever time you get home from work.

1) Cut back on screen time

Your natural body clock, or circadian rhythm, follows a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle2. Your body releases the hormone cortisol when the sun rises, which helps you to feel awake. When the sun goes down, it releases melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.

The blue light emitted from electronics, such as your phone, can negatively impact sleep as it delays the production of melatonin and decreases sleepiness.

The key takeaway here? Cut back on screen time, particularly before bed, as this can make it harder to fall asleep. Night shifts can throw off your body clock anyway, and screens may only worsen this.

2) Reduce caffeine intake

You might think you need caffeine to get through your night shift, but it can be detrimental when it comes to trying to fall asleep. While it affects every individual differently, caffeine has been shown to:

  1. Reduce the time spent in the deepest stage of sleep that leaves us feeling fully rested in the morning
  2. Worsen insomnia symptoms
  3. Reduce overall sleep time3
  4. Make it more difficult to get to sleep

If you have difficulty sleeping, consider cutting out caffeine six hours before bed. Even three hours before could have a positive impact, but it might not be enough.

3) Block out all light

Blue light is also found in natural sunlight, which (as mentioned) can trigger the production of cortisol and keep you awake. Regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle better by ensuring you block out all light from your room – blackout blinds could be a useful investment.

4) Improve sleep environment

Your sleep environment could be stopping you from drifting off. Make changes such as:

  1. Ensuring your mattress and pillow are comfortable
  2. Keeping your room clean
  3. Decluttering
  4. Using relaxing scents
  5. Blocking out all noise

5) Adjust the temperature

Sleep is triggered by a drop in body temperature; it needs to be at least one degree lower than during the day4. So, keep the room cool (getting a lighter duvet could be a good idea too). Some other tips include:

  • Have a warm shower before bed
  • Avoid big meals just before sleeping
  • Ensure the room is ventilated regularly

6) Plan meals during your shift

When working night shifts, it can be tempting to eat a big dinner (at breakfast time) and then try to fall asleep immediately after. But, there can be a link between eating closer to bedtime and struggling to fall (and stay) asleep, due to acid reflux and indigestion5. Going to bed straight after eating can also negatively impact digestion.

Not everyone experiences problems if they eat just before they sleep, but many do. It’s recommended to avoid a large meal 3-4 hours before bed. Of course, this can be easier said than done when it comes to working night shifts, but try not to eat anything too sugary or fatty if you can.

7) Increase exposure to light during the day

Your natural body clock, or circadian rhythm, follows the day-night light cycle. As mentioned, during the day, light exposure generates alertness through the production of cortisol, helping keep us awake. At nighttime, your body clock initiates the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep6.

So, trick your body clock into following the natural day-light cycle. Keep lights on while you work, avoid turning down the brightness down on electronics and generally increase your overall exposure to light.

8) Leave work at work

It can be easier said than done, as a stressful day can lead to feelings of anxiety and upset. However, stress and sleep don’t go hand in hand; one will disrupt the other.

Try to reduce stress by practicing meditation, even if it’s only 10 minutes before bed. This can not only help you get to sleep, but also stay asleep. You should also try to be more mindful throughout your day to day life, as this can promote relaxation.

9) Do more exercise

There are a number of benefits to exercising regularly, one of them being it can improve sleep in some people. More specifically, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can improve sleep quality by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, as well as decrease the amount of time spent lying awake in bed during the night7.

However, you should avoid working out right before you go to bed, as exercising will trigger adrenaline production, making it harder to sleep. If you haven’t got time to go to the gym, simply be more active during your day to day life. Even a 30-minute walk a day can be extremely beneficial.

10) Cut back on smoking and alcohol

Alcohol and sleep don’t mix for a number of reasons. You might think it sends you off into a deep sleep, but in fact, it has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration8. It can also worsen the effects of sleep apnea and insomnia.

Also, nicotine is a stimulant, and regular smokers are more likely to:

  • Sleep for a shorter amount of time
  • Take longer to fall asleep
  • Spend less time in a deep, restorative sleep9

11) Practice relaxation techniques

Try to take the time to unwind before bed. There are many things you can try, including:

  1. Reading a book
  2. Playing calming music
  3. Breathing deeply
  4. Having a bath

12) Set a bedtime routine

It can be extremely difficult to establish a regular schedule when working night shifts, particularly if they’re fairly erratic. However, try to establish a routine: involving dedicated time to unwind, a set bedtime and rise time. This can help train your body to know when it’s time to go to sleep.

13) Don't nap too much

A power nap (around 20-30 minutes) can be beneficial, however, don’t overdo it. Long naps can interfere with sleep, and worsen sleep quality and insomnia10. They can also cause you to feel groggy and disoriented.

Set a night shift sleep schedule

It’s often not easy getting a good sleep when working night shifts. However, following some simple strategies can help you build habits that improve this. Remember, it’s not just about falling asleep, but sleep quality also. Good sleep is a vital part of living a healthy lifestyle, so it’s important you make it a priority.

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