Even if there’s no flexibility as to the shifts you work, what you do before, during, and after the night shift can make a huge difference to your sleepiness and general mood. We’ve gathered some tips and ideas for how you can make your night shift just a little bit easier.
Before Your Night Shift
Adjust your sleep pattern. Most people can cope with up to a 2 – 3-hour shift in their sleep-wake cycle. If you have a few days before you start night shifts, it’s a good idea to gradually adjust your sleep and wake-up times to match your new schedule. For example, you could go to bed two hours later each night and get up two hours earlier each morning.
Take a nap before you go to work to reduce sleepiness when you’re working. If you’re a natural early bird, try a long nap for up to three hours to reduce your sleep debt. However, if you’re a night owl, you’ll find it hard to sleep in the afternoon, but try to get at least a twenty-minute nap before you’re getting ready for work. Remember, napping for more than thirty minutes may cause you to enter a deep sleep, and it can take about an hour to feel fully alert again after waking up. Therefore, if your nap is longer than this, allow time to wake up afterwards.
While You’re at Work
Seek out bright lights. As your circadian rhythm determines when you feel alert or sleepy, and is influenced by light, being surrounded by light will help you feel more awake. Even if your work area needs to be dimly lit, break rooms should be well lit. If your workplace feels too dark, speak to your employer about increasing the brightness of the lighting. You can read more about circadian rhythm here.
Eat regularly. When you have the same shift for at least a few days, eat a meal or snack at the same time each day. This’ll promote regular body cycles. If you’re working night shifts for several nights, eat your ‘lunch’ mid-way through your shift.
Try to get a nap. A mid-shift power nap for up to thirty minutes will be more beneficial than a cup of coffee.
Limit caffeine. A cup of tea or coffee can be helpful at the start of your shift to promote alertness. However, if you take frequent cups or have a cup within a few hours of when you’ll go to sleep, this can make it harder to fall asleep. It’ll also keep you from falling into a deep, restful sleep, and you might not sleep for as long.
After Your Night Shift
Try to avoid driving. You’re at higher risk of having a car accident if you drive after a night shift as you could be experiencing sleepiness, and it could be hard to concentrate. If public transport, getting a lift, or hailing a taxi isn’t practical, then vary your route home so that you’re less likely to be driving on autopilot. If you’re very tired, take a short nap before setting off.
Avoid bright lights. This can be hard if the sun is up when you leave work, so you could try wearing dark sunglasses on the way home. As daylight signals to your body to stay awake, wearing sunglasses or a hat may encourage the production of melatonin so that your body is ready to sleep when you get home.
Sleeping After a Night Shift
Follow a regular routine. When you get home, it can be helpful to follow a regular ‘bedtime’ routine to let your body know that it’s time to get ready to go to sleep. This routine could include a light snack, a warm bath, brushing your teeth, and soothing music. It could end with relaxation exercises or reading a book before you go to sleep.
Avoid clocks or alarm clocks. If you see clocks or alarm clocks during your rest time, this may make you feel anxious about how much time you have to sleep, or when you have to wake up.
Have a good sleeping environment. Having a comfortable bed in a dark, cool, and quiet room is essential to a good sleep. Invest in blackout curtains to keep out the sunlight. Also, try to block out any noise – install double glazing or use ear plugs.
Keep friends and family informed. Avoid daytime disturbances, like phone calls or a knock on the door, by letting your friends and family know when you’ll be sleeping during the day. If you have housemates, let them know so that they can try to keep the noise down when they’re up.