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Daytime Sleeping Schedules for the Night Shift

Work all night. Sleep all day(ish). Here's how.

Getting used to sleeping during the day can take time. Everyone adjusts differently. Sometimes I read articles on working nights that dogmatically dictate that you must sleep according to one schedule or another. But realistically, the same thing just doesn’t work for everyone. Everyone’s sleep needs and circumstances are different. The main thing is to sleep! 

Sticking to a set sleep schedule—whatever that looks like—will help you sleep more easily during the day. By sticking to a plan, you will train your body when it should be asleep versus awake. 

 

Customize your sleep schedule

When it comes to daytime sleeping for night shifts, you need to figure out what works for your unique body and circumstances. Take the time to plot out exactly what hours you need to sleep—either digitally or on paper. Mapping out your sleep plan will help you find any flaws in your well-intentioned ideas.


When plotting out your sleep schedule, you’ll need to consider: 

  • Your scheduled shifts
  • Your sleep requirements
  • Your family and household responsibilities
  • Your social engagements
  • Other commitments
 

Track your sleep

If you are already working the night shift, how much sleep do you get? Track your daytime sleep for at least a week on paper or with your fitness watch (although the jury is still out on the accuracy of sleep-tracking wearables). Figure out how much sleep you are getting on average per day. Record how you feel with that amount of sleep. Are you functional? Are you alert? Are you happy? You need to know how much sleep you are getting before changing anything with these suggestions.

If you aren’t working the night shift yet, track your nighttime sleep and figure out how much you’re getting. Record how you feel with that amount. (Most sleep experts think we need 7–9 hours to feel our best, but it’s highly individualistic.)

 

Anchoring your sleep

If you have an erratic work schedule, anchoring your sleep may be an option for you, depending on your shift schedule. That means making sure you log the same 4 hours of sleep every day. For example, make sure you’re in bed from 1 to 5 p.m. every day, then add as many hours as you can before/after that period of time. The consistent factor is that you will always be sleeping between those hours, no matter what. You may also be sleeping before and/or after, but your body can count on the fact that you will always be in bed during those hours. This sleeping pattern adds some sort of regularity to an otherwise chaotic schedule.

 

Sample sleep schedules

Could any of these sleep plans work for you? They’re all based on 12-hour rotating shifts, but they can be adjusted according to your work schedule. Note how successful daytime sleeping doesn’t need to look an exact way to be effective. You might need to experiment until you find what works best for you.

 

The late sleeper

Many shift workers have reported success in delaying their sleep for a few hours after getting home. A 2021 study examined a small group of night shift workers working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The group that did the best in terms of total sleep time, alertness, and performance was the team who stayed up after the night shift until 1 p.m., then slept/stayed in bed for 8 hours (even if not sleeping). People who slept right after their shift got the least sleep. Here’s how the same concept could be applied to 12-hour rotating shifts. 

 

Time

Activity

7 a.m.

Clock out

7:30–8:00 a.m.

Breakfast

8:00–11 a.m.

Errands or puttering 

11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Sleep

6:00 p.m. 

Meal & family time

7 p.m.

Clock in at work

Shift workers in the wild

We scoured the web for first-hand accounts of what sleep schedules work best for real-life shift workers. Here’s what they said about delaying sleep. (Edited for clarity and conciseness.)

I worked nights for many years, and my friends who also did were a lot more tired than I was. They went to bed when they got home. Instead, I finished at 7 a.m., went home, had supper, cleaned up, watched TV until around noon, and then went to bed until 8 or 9 p.m. Then I got up and went to work for 11 p.m.

A day-shift worker doesn’t go to bed as soon as they get home, so why should a night-shift worker? I kept telling my friends to do what I did, but they always said they couldn’t make it that far. But they always woke up earlier and would be up for several hours before work. Then they would be exhausted throughout their shift. I was tired but not exhausted because of the routine I kept.Natalie

Here is the absolute best tip that will help everyone with the night shift: Do not go to sleep right when you get home! Stay up for as long as you would before going to bed just as if you were working the day shift. I used to get off at 6 a.m. and if I went to bed when I got home, I could never get a full 6 hours of sleep straight. I would wake up repeatedly and then feel totally awake but exhausted at around noon. The worst part about this is you now have to do your whole day with work on top afterward. How many people who work a normal shift go to bed when they get home at 5 p.m., then wake up at midnight, do their whole day, and then go to work?—Rod

 

The fitness buff

Some of my athletic coworkers eat breakfast, leave work as the sun rises, work out at the gym, shower, and hit the sheets by 10 a.m. They sleep ’til about 5 p.m. or 6 p.m., then eat dinner and head to work. (These folks admit that this only works for them if they go directly to the gym. Stopping at home is deadly for them as they inevitably crawl between the sheets and never make it back out.)

 

Time

Activity

7 a.m. 

Clock out of work

7:30–8:30 a.m.

Hit the gym

9:00–10 a.m.

Shower, breakfast & sleep routine

10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Sleep

5–6:30 p.m. 

Meal & family time

7 p.m.

Clock in at work

 

The school sleeper

Many of my coworkers are single parents. They leave work and get home in time for the breakfast parade and lunch-making lineup. After popping the kids on the bus or delivering them to school, these night-shift warriors head straight to bed and sleep until school is over. If they need more sleep than this allows, their kids go to after-school daycare or a babysitter. Then it’s family supper time before bedtime kisses and heading back to work.

 

Time

Activity

7 a.m.

Clock out of work

7:30–9 a.m.

School prep & drop-off

9:30 a.m.–3 p.m.

Sleep

3:30 p.m.

School pickup

3:30–6 p.m.

Family time

6 p.m.

Get ready for work & commute

7 p.m.

Clock in at work 

 

The split sleeper

I have other coworkers who cannot stay asleep for one long spell during the day. These folks leave work, head straight to bed, and have a 3+ hour nap. Then they get up, have lunch, putter around, and head back for a late afternoon 3+ hour nap. Then it’s time to drive to work, eat dinner in the staff room, and head onto their night shift. 

 

Time

Activity

7 a.m. 

Clock out of work

7:30 a.m.

Bedtime routine

8–11 a.m.

Sleep

11 a.m.–2 p.m.

Putter

2–5 p.m.

Sleep

5–6:30 p.m.

Family time

7 p.m.

Clock in at work 

My sleep schedule

When I worked nights, I had a small breakfast near the end of my shift, then headed straight to bed after work and slept for several hours. I invariably snapped awake at 1 p.m. so I drank a tall glass of water, padded around my apartment for a few minutes, and then went back to sleep until 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. 

While delaying my sleep until later in the day may have helped me feel fresher during the wee hours of my night shifts, I dealt with a lot of anxiety around getting enough sleep while working a string of night shifts. Basically, the more pressure I felt to get enough sleep, the harder it became for me to fall asleep. Therefore, I chose to start sleeping early in the day since then I could tell myself: “I have alllll day to sleep, so there’s no pressure to fall asleep right away.” 

That little mind game worked well for me and helped me get a minimum of six hours and sometimes closer to eight hours of sleep before my shift. Sometimes I could even sneak in a quick nap from 5:30 to 6 p.m. before my shift began at 7 p.m.

 

If you’re new to shift work or have been struggling to get adequate sleep, you may need to try a few different sleeping patterns to see which is best for you. There is no exact sleeping pattern that is considered the best. The best one is the one that works for you! 

Once you have a workable schedule, try to stick to it consistently. This will let your body adjust and help you build some routine.

 

Could any of those sleep plans work for you? Do you already have a sleep schedule that works for you? Please share below so we can learn from each other!

Updated January 24th, 2023

Sleep Schedules for Shift Workers

Last updated: 2023-12-29

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Lauren McGill

I work at the intersection of healthcare and storytelling. As a medical writer, I help healthcare experts publish content so they stand out as thought leaders.

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