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

 

How to Have a Social Life on Night Shift

Shift workers often grapple with how to have a social life when working the graveyard shift. If you miss out on too many events in a row, it can take a toll on your happiness and add stress to your relationships. Night shift workers can experience bouts of feeling ‘out of the loop’ or isolated from family and friends. I spoke with some night shift workers who have managed to balance out they’re shifty schedule with getting enough social time. Here are their best suggestions.

Communicate

Help your friends and family understand you’re on a different schedule. Explain that 2 p.m. in the afternoon for them is like 2 a.m. in the morning for you. Suggest times to get together that work with your work/sleep schedule. Try: “Let’s meet up for a bite before I head in Friday night” or “How about breakfast on Sunday morning after I finish my shift?” You might find that you have to work harder to maintain relationships with loved ones who have conflicting schedules, but it’s worth it to keep those connections alive!

Use tech to meet up

In order to meet up with good friends who work traditional hours, use scheduling apps to help you find overlapping time between your schedule and theirs. This helps take the guesswork out of your availability so you can focus on planning what you’ll do for fun instead of when you can find a few hours when you are both awake/available.

Be prepared

Be ready to socialize by using your time off when others aren’t free to take care of errands and chores. Take care of meal prep, grocery shopping, dry cleaning pickup or swimming class registration during your downtime while your friends are working. Then you’ll be ready to meet up and party on once they’re off work.

Embrace breakfast dates

Breakfast is a great time to catch up because it works with almost anybody’s schedule. You’re quitting night shift at 7 am and your friend starts her workday at 9 am? Grab some sunny side up eggs together at 7:30 am! You both need to eat breakfast anyways. It can be a great time of day to touch base with your folks, catch up with a friend, or even go on a date. Breakfast for the win!

Save up your vacation time

Save up as much vacation time as you can to use for holidays or special events with your favourite peeps. Obviously, this will depend on approval from your boss and whether others have first dibs on that time off. But your odds increase if you ask for time off as soon as possible so you can make it to weddings, rock concerts, pie eating contests, or whatever events are important to you.

Find others with similar schedules

To keep your social circle full, seek out new friends with similar working hours. Look to meet people in the same industry or in other industries with unusual working hours –  restaurants, hotels, first responders, hospital staff, security guards, etc. They might have a similar schedule to you and even if not, they’ll certainly understand the challenges of having a job with unusual hours. Chances are that they’ll be game for pre-work gym sessions, post-work breakfast meet-ups, or Netflix binges on turnaround days. etc.

Keep it short and sweet

If your family or friends are having a party that you want to attend, make sure to sleep the entire time before it begins. Have your lunch packed, your clothes ready and your work bag ready to go so you can rest as much as possible before stopping in for some socialization before heading off to work. In my experience, I can often attend events– but just the beginning. I stop in, say hello, grab some food, and then sail off to work. I usually make it clear when I accept an invite that I’ll need to dine-and-dash in order to get to work, but most hosts would prefer you come for a short time than not come at all.

Use e-mail

The beauty of e-mail is that you can write a bit whenever you have time, add to it later, and send it any time of day without waking anyone up. Personally, I use e-mail to stay in touch with my best friend in another city and my aunt in another country. It would be almost impossible to find frequent times to call or visit them with our mutually hectic schedules, but I can easily stay in touch pen-pal style. I often have quiet periods on the night shift, so I’ll type up an e-mail at 4 am to bring them up-to-date. They write back when they have time. We swap recipes, send photos and share stories. It’s a small thing that keeps us close despite conflicting schedules.

How do you keep your social life alive while working nights? Any tips or tricks you can share?

Night Shift Wellness How to Have a Social Life on Night Shift

How to Eat Clean while Working the Night Shift

Is it just my workplace, or is it standard practice to have delicious, deep-fried, sugar-laden options ushered in during the middle of the night shift? When my stomach is growling? And my resistance is lowest?

There are also generous coworkers who do middle-of-the-night coffee runs and deliver my sugary, syrupy macchiato. Not to mention the home-baked goodies that grateful patients have dropped off. And the siren call of the vending machines. Every. Single. Shift.

If your meal breaks are either hard-to-find or often interrupted, then healthy grazing is the best way to stay fuelled.

If you don’t have healthy snacks prepared, it’s too easy to start snacking on muffins, doughnuts or the pizza your coworker is sharing. Those kind of night shift diet choices start to take at toll after a few weeks, months, or years of shift work. Here’s some ideas that just might keep you out of the 3 a.m. doughnuts.

1. Plan ahead

Prep work will pay off big time. So before you disappear into the relentless grind of back-to-back night shifts, take a few minutes to get prepared with some go-to healthy foods.

  • Wash fruit
  • Chop veggies
  • Whip up some smoothies (store them in the freezer)
  • Make hard-boiled eggs
  • Cook grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.)

2. Pack snacks

Prepare for your shift the same way you would prepare a little kid’s lunch. Because by 2 a.m., we all start to feel like a overtired, very hungry toddlers. Beat the temper tantrum by filling several small resealable containers with appealing, healthy snacks.

  • Carrot, celery and red pepper sticks with hummus
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Plain yogurt with crunchy granola and raspberries
  • Oatmeal muffins with fruit & nuts
  • Quinoa salad with chopped fresh veggies and vinaigrette
  • Healthy granola bars
  • Peanut butter energy balls

3. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is a simple way to keep you feeling awake and ward off hunger pains.

  • Get a couple of good refillable water bottles and fill them up – add some lemon wedges and mint leaves for a zesty refresh
  • Invest in some high-quality tasty teas to stash at work or in your bag – make a hot tea when you’re tempted to sip a sugary hot drink to stay awake. (And if you’re like me, I get really cold in the middle of the night and need something hot to warm me up.)
  • Make a quick berry smoothie or green smoothie and stash it in the fridge until you’re ready for it. It’s portable nutrition that will fill you up without causing a sugar crash.

4. Treat yo-self

You don’t want to feel deprived or like you’re missing out on the fun. By packing one or two small treats to enjoy during your shift, you’ll have already set limits before you dive head-first into the fresh box of donuts.

  • A small bar of dark chocolate
  • Healthy cookies (yes, they exist!)
  • Chocolate-covered raisins or almonds
  • Vanilla or rice pudding

5. Use freezer bag slow cooker meals

Prepare some freezer bag slow cooker meals on your days off. Put them into the slow cooker when you get home in the morning after your shift. Go to bed, and supper will be ready for you when you wake up. Pack up some leftovers to bring to work for a midnight dinner.

Need some recipes to get started with this idea? Grab a copy of my Slow Cooker Freezer Bag: Complete Guide + Recipes for all the tips, tricks, and recipes you need.

Night Shift Diet Healthy Eating