I just started working the night shift, and I'm having trouble sleeping during the day. Do you have any sleep tips for shift workers?
Answers from Timothy Morgenthaler, M.D.
Humans are naturally wired to be awake during the day and to sleep at night. Good daytime sleep is possible, though, if shift work is a necessary part of your work life.
To promote better sleep during the day:
- Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and nicotine, before bedtime. If you're working nights and need to sleep from morning until afternoon, you might try to avoid caffeine after midnight.
- Create a restful environment. To promote uninterrupted sleep, turn off or unplug your phone and hang room-darkening shades on the windows. You might also turn down the thermostat, wear an eye mask and post a "Do not disturb" sign on your bedroom door — and possibly your front door as well. Schedule appointments and other activities outside of your sleep period, and train your family and friends to leave you alone while you sleep.
- Take a short nap before your shift. Napping for up to 30 minutes just before work or on a break may increase alertness and enhance your performance, including quicker reaction time, better memory, less confusion, and fewer accidents and mistakes — especially if your daytime sleep period was cut short. Keep it short, though. The longer you nap, the more likely you are to feel groggy afterward.
- Stick to the routine. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day helps promote good sleep. Be as consistent as possible, even on weekends and days off.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Eat a healthy diet and include physical activity in your daily routine. If exercise seems to energize you, plan to work out after you wake up rather than before you go to sleep. Resist the temptation to use junk food or nicotine to stay awake or alcohol to get to sleep.
If these tips don't seem to help, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. Sometimes an underlying sleep disorder or other issues need to be addressed.
May. 21, 2011
Timothy Morgenthaler, M.D.
See more Expert Answers
- Milner CE, et al. Benefits of napping in healthy adults: Impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of Sleep Research. 2009;18:272.
- Lau H, et al. Daytime napping: Effects on human direct associative and relational memory. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2010;93:554.
- Dhand R, et al. Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults. Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine. 2006;12:379.
- Sleep deprivation. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. http://www.aasmnet.org/Resources/FactSheets/SleepDeprivation.pdf. Accessed Jan. 31, 2011.
- In brief: Your guide to healthy sleep. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthysleepfs.pdf. Accessed Jan. 31, 2011.