If you work the graveyard shift, it can be hard to sleep soundly during the day no matter how tired you are. According to Purdue University Extension Service, the human body will never fully adapt to working the night shift. No matter how long you do your job, you’ll be sleepiest between midnight and six a.m. But there are ways to adjust, so that you can sleep as soundly as possible and still do shift work:
- Block light. A mask may do the trick, or you may want to tint your bedroom windows (or use paper or foil as a cheaper alternative). Our bodies are attuned to patterns of light and dark, and are not accustomed to sleeping for more than a couple of hours (napping) while it’s light out. Block as much light as possible to “trick” your body’s circadian rhythm.
- Mute noise. Daytime noises can be a real problem, whether it’s your rambunctious kids or the neighbor’s lawnmower. Consider investing in earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones, but make sure they’re honestly comfortable to sleep in or you’ll wake up out of discomfort anyway. A white-noise machine or a loud fan can also have a significant noise-cancelling effect.
- Talk with your friends and family. Get your family, and your neighbors if possible, “on your team.” Ask for their help in keeping the noise to a reasonable level during the hours when you’re asleep. Most people want to help when they’re approached rationally, in a way that’s asking for help instead of demanding or—even worse—angry.
- Stick to a schedule. It can be tempting to want to see more of your friends and family on the weekends, but switching back and forth between a day and night schedule for two days is even more confusing to your body. Pick a bedtime and wake-up time and stick with them every day of the week. If you have four days of extended shifts followed by three days off, you may have more luck switching between day and night sleep. Experiment.
- Exercise. Physical exercise, as long as it’s undertaken 6 hours or more before bed, can help your body crave sleep. Get up a little earlier and go for a walk, lift weights, or hit the gym—you’ll sleep better after your work shift.
- Keep it cool. At night, our body temperature naturally begins to drop, and doesn’t rise again until it’s nearly time for the sun to rise. You can try “tricking” your body by taking a hot shower before bed and then going to sleep in a cold room, so the body’s quick drop in temperature signals a need for sleep.
- Know your body. If you need time to let go of the stresses of the job before you crash, take it. Don’t rush to sleep, or you’ll just wind up taking your work to bed with you and staring at the ceiling. Do some yoga, take a stroll, or hang out with your family for an hour or two before you hit the hay. Just avoid the TV to keep from exposing yourself to a light source that will keep you awake.
Shift work is never easy on the body, but sometimes it just has to be done. The best way to help your body survive the stresses of jobs that require odd hours are to stick to a schedule, create a restful sleep environment, and keep your body healthy—exercise and relax regularly. With a little discipline, shift work can be easier than you think.