How to Schedule Sleep for Night Shift

It’s pretty simple. The best sleep schedule is the one that works for you! Everyone’s sleep needs and circumstances are different. The main thing is to get enough sleep.

Sometimes I read articles on how to sleep while working nights that dogmatically dictate a certain sleep schedule. But, realistically, the same thing just doesn’t work everyone. And if you’re new to shift work or have been struggling to get adequate sleep, you might need to try a few different sleeping patterns to see which is best for you.

You need to figure out what works for your body and circumstances and then stick to it consistently. This will let your body adjust and help you build some routine into your life. It will also help you sleep during the day more easily by training your body when it should be asleep vs. awake.

How to build your sleep schedule

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 potential flaws in your well-intentioned ideas. When plotting out your sleep schedule, consider:

  • Your scheduled shifts (8 hrs? 12 hrs? start time? end time?)
  • Your individual sleep requirements (7 hrs of shut eye? 9 hrs or more?)
  • Your family responsibilities (children to be dropped off/picked up?)
  • Social engagements (PTA meetings, dinner dates, etc.)
  • Other commitments (soccer practice, doctor’s appointments, etc.)

Sample sleep plans

Want to see the schedules of some of my co-workers? These different sleeping schedules show you that successful daytime sleeping doesn’t need to look exactly one way to be effective.

The fitness buff

Some of my athletic co-workers follow this schedule:

  • Leave work as the sun rises, eating breakfast before they go
  • Work out at the gym & shower
  • Hit the sheets by 10 a.m.
  • Sleep til about 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.
  • Eat dinner
  • Head into work

These folks admit that this only works for them if they go directly to the gym. Stopping at home is deadly for as it inevitably leads to crawling between the sheets and never making it back out.


The school sleeper

Many of my co-workers are parents. Here’s how they work their sleep schedule:

  • Leave work
  • Get home in time for the breakfast parade and lunch-making lineup
  • Pop kids on the bus and/or deliver them to school
  • Head straight to bed
  • Sleep until school is over
  • Do homework and eat dinner with the kids
  • Give bedtime kisses
  • Head into work

If you need more sleep than this schedule allows, it may be possible to arrange after-school daycare or babysitting.


The split sleeper

I have other co-workers who cannot stay asleep for one long spell during the day. These folks do the following:

  • Leave work
  • Eat breakfast
  • Head straight to bed
  • Sleep for a 3+ hour nap
  • Have lunch / putter around / do some housekeeping
  • Sleep for another 3+ hour nap
  • Drive to work
  • Eat dinner in the staff room and head into their night shift

My schedule

Here’s what works for me:

  • I have a small breakfast near the end of my shift.
  • I head straight to bed after work and sleep for several hours.
  • I invariably snap awake at 1 p.m. so I drink a tall glass of water and pad around my apartment for a few minutes.
  • I get back in bed, do some reading and head back to sleep until late afternoon.
  • I eat dinner, grab a large coffee, and drop off my dog before heading into work. (I try to get to work 15 mins before shift start to settle in and relieve my coworker early.)

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!

Sleep Schedules for Shift Workers

How to Keep your Bedroom Dark

Absolute darkness is essential to deep sleep, whether it’s daytime or nighttime. Your brain can detect even tiny amounts of light through closed eyelids, which can disturb your sleep cycles. The goal is to make your sleep room pitch-dark.

If you share your bedroom with a nighttime sleeper, they too will appreciate your efforts to make your bedroom completely dark. Some street lamps now use energy-efficient LEDs, which emit light in the blue part of the spectrum, which is considered the most sleep-sabotaging kind of all. So blocking out all outside light – during both the day and night – can result in better sleep for everyone.

Use blackout blinds and curtains

Use a combination of blackout shades and opaque curtains to block all light from outside. The best way to make the room absolutely dark is by installing an inside-mounted blackout blind/shade inside the window frame. Then hang outside-mounted blackout curtains on a curtain rod that extends several inches outside the window frame on both sides. The point of doubling up is to ensure total darkness. Even high-end blackout products may allow a tiny bit of light to creep in the sides. A combination of a shade and curtains provides the maximum effect.


How to choose a blind

Cellular shades are the best for blocking out the light. Blinds allow can allow a small amount of light to seep in between the horizontal slats. Roller blinds often eventually curl up and become less effective. Choose the cordless cellular shades, as there’s no chance then of the cord malfunctioning.

Start by measuring the inside dimensions of your window frame. The width of the shade should be slightly narrower than the widow of your window frame- about ¼ to ½ inch. The length of the shade should be long enough to reach the very bottom of your window. If it’s a bit longer, no worries.

How to choose curtains

You definitely want to choose the ones specifically marked as “blackout” and not just “light filtering” or “room darkening.” We’re going for NASA level technology here. The curtains should be long but shouldn’t pool on the floor– you can hem them with hemming tape or bring them to a tailor. Use enough curtain panels… if you think you need one on each side, consider doubling that so you get good thickness and they fully cover every possible inch.

How to choose a curtain rod

You don’t want any light seeping out on either side of the window. There are two options:

  1. Buy a wraparound rod that curves at the ends so that the curtains can be drawn all the way back to the wall.
  2. Buy a curtain rod that is at least a foot wider than your window frame. Then draw curtains fully across the windows all the way to the edge of the curtain rod for full coverage.

Go analog

Swap your digital alarm clock for an analogue one. (Stuck on having a digital clock? Switch to red. Digital clocks with red numbers are considered less disruptive than ones with white or blue digits. Just turn it so it is facing away from you.)

Unplug/cover up electronics

Unplug whatever you can. Use small dots of black electrical tape to cover up any lights on electronics.

Use a “snake” at the door

Block out any light spilling in underneath door frames by placing a snake across the bottom of your doorframe. They are like long, skinny bean bags filled with rice and were often used in old homes to block out drafts. A snake will block out light and muffle outside noises that might sneak in.

Eye mask

Here’s the easiest peasiest solution of them all: Buy a sleep mask that fits your face perfectly.

Night Shift Wellness How to Keep your Bedroom Dark