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Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is hard enough, but it can be especially challenging when you don’t have a regular work schedule.

night shift sign

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 14% of Americans are employed through shift work, and these workers are more likely to suffer from insomnia and daytime sleepiness than 9-5 workers. They are also more likely to drive drowsy, and twice as more likely to fall asleep while driving. Depending on whether you regularly work a night shift or have rotating shift schedules, your coping mechanisms may look different. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to get the quality sleep you need and stay alert while you’re at work.

  1. Invest in blackout curtains.

If you’re trying to sleep during daylight hours, even the tiniest slivers of light through the blinds can disrupt your body’s rhythms. Blackout curtains, which completely block the light from windows, can help mimic your room’s darkness at nighttime and help you sleep better when you’re trying to sleep odd hours.

  1. Try earplugs or white noise.

Another challenge to sleeping during the day can be noise. Even if you live alone or have housemates that are considerate to your sleeping patterns and keep quiet, noise from outside is much greater during the day. Construction, traffic, and people on the street can all make it difficult to sleep. Earplugs or some form of white noise may greatly reduce this barrier to quality sleep.

  1. Take nap breaks.

Take a short 20-minute nap before your shift, whatever time it starts. This will help you refresh your alertness before heading to work. You may also feel better with short naps during your shift if that is possible. Eat quickly during your break and take a nap in your car if you can.

  1. Maintain a regular schedule or “bedtime” routine.

If you have a regular shift, even if it is a night shift, try to keep the same schedule on working days and days off. If you normally sleep from 7am to 2pm on work days, don’t switch to sleeping at night on days you are not working. That will only make it harder to get quality sleep on working days. If you have a rotating shift and maintaining a regular schedule is impossible, try to at least have a regular bedtime routine to signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep, such as drinking a cup of tea and reading a book, or taking a warm bath.

  1. Snack healthy.

UCLA’s Sleep Center reports that more than 22 million Americans work evening, rotating, or on-call shifts, and many of these workers complain of stomach problems. Shift workers often eat poorly or at odd times and rely on fatty snacks to stay alert. Try to eat regularly, healthy meals spaced out evenly during waking hours, or if you must snack, snack healthy. Snacking healthy can also help maintain alertness during shifts. Good snacks can include nuts, fruit, or vegetables.

Shift work can make the challenge of staying healthy even more challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. The most important thing is to take care of yourself, mentally and physically, and listen to your body when it tells you something is not right. Health comes first.


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