Sleep is essential to all of our bodily functions. But if you’re a busy medical professional, getting restful sleep may be a challenge. If you’re reading this at four in the morning wondering how to fall back asleep, we’re here to tell you that it’s all about finding the right routine for your body.
Good, solid sleep can be challenging for those working a night shift. While the rest of the world goes about its business during the day, you live at the night. That means you don’t have that traditional 9-5 work schedule that allows you to get home early, eat, relax and sleep overnight.
If you’re wondering how to make the most of your time as a medical professional with odd hours, read on to learn how to implement the best sleep schedule for night shift workers or fix your sleeping schedule (for those who aren’t new to the game).
Ten Benefits of a proper sleep schedule when working a night shift
Of course, getting the right kind of sleep feels good. But why is that? Sleep experts cite the following benefits sleep may offer:
- Regulating your body clock
- Improving the quality of your sleep
- Maintaining your immune system
- Helping your heart’s health
- Increasing your productivity and performance
- Sharpening your memory
- Assisting with weight regulation
- Boosting your mood
- Preventing dangerous effects of sleep deprivation
- Aiding your metabolism
How to create a sleep routine
The list above establishes the importance of getting a great night’s sleep (or, in some cases, a day’s sleep), but doing so may not always be that easy. Read on to learn how to create your sleep routine around your shift, no matter what kind of hours you work.
Make yourself a sleep sanctuary
Set yourself up for success by creating a space that invites sleep. Wear an eye mask or keep your room dark (blackout curtains, anyone?) and at a comfortable temperature. Try to reduce outside distractions by using noise machines or earplugs, putting your phone on silent, and ensuring that the screen’s bright light is off. We recommend using your bedroom only for sleep.
Keep the same hours
It doesn’t matter whether you work a night or day shift; always aim to get the same hours of sleep every time you lay down. Make sure that you plan all your bedtime activities around this time and set a sleep alarm if it’s hard for you to commit to this plan at first. Talk to your family members or roommates about your sleep plan so that they can help you respect and reinforce it.
Be careful with substances
No one is judging you if you love a little coffee or wine, but the truth is, it may be affecting your sleep. Even a heavy meal can influence how well you rest. Try to limit caffeine, large meals, and alcohol before bed. The effect of the latter can backfire. You may feel sleepy at first, but ultimately, it can interrupt your sleep schedule.
Consider your bedtime activities
We know it’s hard to find the motivation to go to the gym when you first wake up, but it’s much better than doing it right before bedtime. Exercise will energize you, and what you need is to relax. Instead of jumping on the bike, try meditating, stretching, or listening to ambient music.
What sleep schedules are best for night shift workers?
While the rest of the world is wondering what 3rd shift hours are, you’re wondering how to get some better sleep while working them.
If you’re about to start working a night shift, you’ll need to ramp up to reset your body’s clock. Below, we’ll explain how to do so.
If you’re already on a night shift and want to improve your sleep pattern, the following tips can come in handy.
How to adjust your sleep schedule to night work
When assigned to a new shift, the key to adjusting your sleep schedule is doing so gradually. At first, you can come home and crash. For example, if you end your new shift at 1 am, feel free to do your bedtime routine, and hit the hay immediately after. But, the next night, put on your favorite series (while you buy some time) and go to bed roughly 2 hours later.
If you went to bed at 3 am the first night, go to bed at 5 am the second night. Keep pushing the hour you fall asleep out until you’re sleeping 8 am-4 pm.
This same logic applies to even later shifts, such as one that runs 11 pm-7 am.
General tips for evening and night shift workers
Whether you’re new to this type of shift or a veteran night owl, the following tips can help you get restful sleep:
- Wear dark glasses on the way home: Daylight will cue your body to stay awake. Mitigate this signal by wearing dark glasses on your commute home.
- Take a nap, but keep it short: You can take a nap before your shift, but try not to sleep for more than 30 minutes, so your body doesn’t enter a deep sleep cycle. The goal is for it to leave you feeling refreshed and not groggy.
- Keep regular mealtimes: If you were working during the day, you’d likely eat dinner around 6-8 pm. Then you’d watch TV or read and lay down around 10. But you’re working at night. Nonetheless, you can aim to maintain this pattern. Try not to eat in the three-four hours before settling in for some Zs.
- Consider a sleep aid: If tricks such as sticking to a sleep schedule and watching what you eat, drink, and do before bed don’t work—or you think you have a sleep disorder—you may need a sleep aid. Even if you are a medical professional, consult another expert for a recommendation before doing so.
We’re not only here to make scrubs so comfortable that you could practically sleep in them (we even make comfortRx loungewear!) We’ve got your back with advice to make your shift—no matter what hours you pull—better.
Now, go count some sheep!