Picture this: you come home from a shift feeling wired, alert, and anything but tired. The sun is shining bright, and you feel wide awake, even though you know you need to sleep. Once your head hits the pillow, you toss and turn endlessly, your brain struggling to shift into sleep mode while the rest of the world is waking up and starting the day.
Sound familiar? If it does, you’re not alone—many night-shift workers find it challenging to get a good day’s sleep. This can create many issues, as getting enough quality sleep is essential for both your physical and mental health. However, there’s no need to despair! There are many practical ways to make it easier to get your Zzz’s during the day. One is setting up a bedtime routine.
How routines impact sleep
Having a good sleep routine is often the key to falling asleep quickly, whether it’s day or night. Following the same set of activities every bedtime smoothes the transition into sleep by training your brain to recognize when it’s time to go to sleep. The more consistent you are with your routine, the easier it will be to drift off into dreamland—regardless of what time of day it is.
Sleep routines include things like having a quiet, dark, and comfortable room. In this article, though, we’ll cover helpful behaviours and rituals for bedtime, and how they can help you sleep better. Keep reading to identify some small tweaks you can make to your routine that will make a big difference in your sleep quality.
How to build your best bedtime routine for shift work
Your bedtime routine should be relaxing, whether it’s at night or in the morning. The goal? Unwind your mind and body for sleep. Here are some ideas for how to physically mellow out and mentally prepare for a solid rest.
You’ve probably heard this a million times already, but we’re saying it again—using screens before bed can make it harder to sleep. Direct exposure to bright lights from phones, computer screens, televisions, and other digital devices can stop the release of melatonin (the sleep hormone), disrupting your circadian rhythm and making it harder for you to fall asleep. If possible, avoid looking at screens for at least two hours before bedtime.
If you do use a screen close to bedtime, lower the brightness as much as possible or download an app to filter out blue light (like f.lux). Try listening to an audiobook or podcast or your favourite show instead of doomscrolling. Look for content that isn’t too upsetting or exciting—this may only amp you up more.
Alternatively, try reading a book or listening to calming music. You’ll feel much more relaxed and ready for bed—and you’ll have the satisfaction of watching your phone’s screen time report improve at the end of the week.
Make time for movement
Regular exercise can help reduce stress and improve your sleep quality. Try to get some physical activity in every day, but avoid exercising too close to bedtime as this can make it harder to sleep. However, gentle movement, like stretching, can help you wind down before bed and release any tension that has built up throughout the day (or night!).
Stretch out your arms, legs, neck, and back to loosen up tight muscles and joints. You can also try some breathing exercises or guided meditation to further relax your mind and body. There are lots of helpful videos on YouTube and various apps that feature stretching exercises and breathing exercises for sleep. Try out different forms of gentle pre-bedtime movement to find what works for you and helps you relax the most.
Journal about your day
Journaling helps to clear your head of any racing thoughts or worries by allowing you to organize and release them onto paper. Taking a few moments before bed to write out events from the day—both good and bad—can help reduce stress levels as well as ensure that nothing important slips through the cracks when your head hits the pillow. In addition to making sleep easier, journaling can also be a great way to document memories and events over the years.
Write out your to-do list
For many of us, it’s a challenge when lying in bed not to endlessly run through our to-do’s for the following day. This is another area where your trusty journal can come in clutch: before going to sleep, take a minute to jot down the tasks and events that will be part of your upcoming day or week. Writing these items out helps create closure for today’s tasks so your thoughts aren’t consumed by them. This channels the proactive part of your brain instead of the reactive part that constantly runs over possible lists in your mind. With your to-do’s out of your head and on a piece of paper, your mind will be free to focus on relaxation and restful sleep.
Reading is one of the best ways to relax both the body and mind before turning in for the night. When we talk about reading, we don’t mean social media feeds or email updates, although we know those can be tempting. We’re talking about good old fiction. Bedtime is definitely not the time for stimulating books that get your mind revved up, so try to avoid self-help books, investment guides, and career-related reading. Pick a book that is enjoyable but won’t produce a huge emotional reaction, as this makes it easier for your active mind to settle down. Your bedtime routine is the perfect time to dive into a great story, giving your mind something low-key to mull over.
Take a bath
For centuries, humans have been taking baths for relaxation and health benefits. Taking a nice warm bath helps prepare our body for sleep by first raising, then lowering our core body temperature. Baths can be especially relaxing when combined with aromatherapy. To get the optimum sleep-inducing benefits of baths, try taking them one to two hours before bed. In addition to being an effective way of regulating your core body temperature, a bath or shower before bed will give you that fresh, clean feeling when you hit the sheets.
Have a small snack or sip some tea
While having heavy snacks, caffeine, or alcohol before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep, going to bed hungry can make it equally challenging to drift off into dreamland. A healthy middle ground for many is having a light snack, like a piece of fruit or yogourt and a non-caffeinated herbal tea. This will calm your stomach without upsetting it with heavy foods and drinks that are hard to digest.
Aromatherapy is a powerful tool that many night-shift workers use to wind down before bed. Lavender oil is commonly used for its relaxing and calming properties. Before getting into bed, spray some lavender-scented mist on your sheets and pillows. The smell can help calm nerves while providing a relaxing atmosphere. Alternatively, you could try incorporating lavender into your bath or shower routine by using lavender bath bombs, salts, or oils. Diffusers are also a great option to infuse your space with calming scents.
A good bedtime routine is important to help you get into the habit of sleeping soundly. By incorporating habits like winding down with a book, stretching, or aromatherapy into your daily pre-bed routine, you can start to build rituals that will help you relax and get a more restful sleep.