Sleep During the Day, Work at Night: 12 Secrets for Success

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If you’ve ever confused a lawnmower for an alarm clock, or secretly cursed the delivery guy for ringing the doorbell during daylight hours, you may be one of the 22 million Americans doing some form of shift work. Working hours outside the standard 9am-5pm can be rough on the body, mind and social calendar, especially when sleeping during the day. But with some planning and routine, there are ways to not only maximize your health but also make the most of this unique schedule.

The most important piece to the shift work puzzle is sleep. As someone who has worked every shift BUT a standard 9am-5pm for more than a decade, I know firsthand how hard the battle against your body’s internal clock can be. Solid rest time is not only important when it comes to the quality of your work, but also your overall health. 

In fact, the Cleveland Clinic warns of an actual condition impacting up to 40 percent of shift workers, known as Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD), characterized by: excessive sleepiness on and off the job, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, depression or moodiness and Insomnia.

Not something you want to mess with. So, here are 12 ways to maximize the duration and quality of your daytime sleep plus plenty of special secrets to help you survive the night shift schedule.

1. Create a Sleep Schedule and Stick to it

Depending on your work hours, the time of day you actually sleep will vary. 

Experts from The Sleep Foundation recommend getting a full 7-9 hours and sticking to that as best you can, even on weekends or days off.

The internet is full of sample schedules, like this one for those who work an overnight shift, but the consensus seems to be that going to bed right away once you get home will set you up for the best sleep success. 

If you’ve got a family and you need to do the school drop-off before jumping into bed, do the best you can to make this happen. I know you probably want to clean the house, do the washing and do a general tidy up, but consider leaving this until you’ve slept – for the sake of everyone, including yourself.

Related: Shift Work and Family. A Practical Guide For Busy Parents.

When winding down and once in bed, the goal is to limit your exposure to light or other stimuli (more advice on that later) so you don’t disrupt the circadian clock you’re trying to reset. It’s not always easy but practicing discipline here will go a long way in helping you get as much solid rest as possible.

[VIDEO] – If you’re thinking, yes I need to get my act together and create a routine, this video I produced recently will help a lot.

2. Prepare Your Sleep Space

So, you’ve got your sleep schedule, now you have to find a way to make it happen. 

Keep in mind you’re not only battling your internal body clock, but also all the factors from the outside world functioning on a standard weekday schedule.  Give yourself the time and flexibility to figure out what works best for you and start by taking a hard look at your sleep space.

Window coverings should be at the top of your list. 

From shutters to blinds or curtains, the goal is to keep your space as dark as possible. Like I’ve said in other articles, aim for a cave – quiet, cool, and dark.

Room-darkening or blackout curtains come in all colors and sizes, are easy to install, and are sold just about anywhere. You can also double panels up on the same rod. After a quick Amazon search, you’ll find a bunch, from portable blinds like this one to more expensive ones but come with incredible reviews.

Foil works great too as a temporary measure!

Investing in some sort of sound machine can also help block out the distractions of the day. Personally, we love ones that double as a diffuser like this one, but each to their own. This white noise machine has phenomenal reviews if you are browsing the net.

Earplugs are worth having too. We list our favorite on this post – Night Shift Essentials.

Special Secret – Don’t be afraid to sleep with special non-restricting bedsocks on – particularly in the winter months!

If blinds seem tricky, why not invest a very small amount in a high-quality eye mask? Here are the masks we recommend. (click below the images for links)

3. Keep Temperatures Low

A cooler room may be tougher on your utility bill, but it is more conducive to sleep. 

Lowering the thermostat just a few degrees can make a big difference when it’s time to head to bed, especially if you have blackout curtains keeping light and heat out.

Typically, it is suggested that the temperature in the bedroom for adults should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep.”

Sleep psychologist Michelle Drerup, PsyD

However, you can take it one step further by regulating your own body temperature.

Researchers in one study found that taking a hot bath or shower before bed could boost the duration and quality of your sleep. 

The idea being as your body cools down from that bath or shower, it will send a signal to your brain that it is time to go to sleep.

People who took baths or showers measuring between 104F-108.5F (40.0C-42.5C) one to two hours before bedtime experienced positive results.  They reported improvements in their sleep even if their baths or showers lasted for as little as 10 minutes.” (source)

If you’re trying to figure out how to cool your environment (and you’ve tried wearing lighter pajamas and using a fan/portable airconditioner machine) another method could be to use a cooling mat on your mattress. We’ve never tried this method before but I’ve heard amazing things about this particular one. Plus, the reviews on Amazon are pretty impressive.

Doesn’t look like much, but it could be the answer to your sleep woes! See it here.

4. Avoiding and Using Light

As mentioned above, the key to sleeping well during the day is minimizing your exposure to light so you don’t activate your internal “daytime clock.”  Wearing dark sunglasses on the commute home from work, going to bed right away and using some form of window covering will help with that.

However, exposure to light BEFORE a night shift can help you feel more alert and ready for the day.  If you wake during daylight hours, spending a few minutes outside should do the trick. If you wake after dark for an overnight shift, some sleep experts recommend using a bright light therapy box to help shift your circadian rhythm.

Special Secret – Spend time outside in the late afternoon to help your body clock reset. Eat dinner outside, take your dog for a walk or meet a friend for a stroll in the park.

This not only makes me feel more human but it improves my levels of vitamin D – something which night shift workers struggle to get. Read – How to Get Enough Vitamin D When Working Night Shift.

If you’re still confused about when to get exposure to light, this video below will help to clarify.

5. Minimize Screen Time

Like sunlight, the blue light coming from our many devices can also make it more difficult to fall asleep. Again, you’re battling biology. The blue light triggers your body to produce higher levels of cortisol and lower levels of Melatonin, a combination that can wreak havoc on sleep patterns.

Some ways to cut down on your exposure include:

  • Turn off all electronic screens at least 60 minutes before bedtime
  • Turn off all automatic notifications on your cell phone, laptop, desktop or tablet
  • Consider putting a blue light filter on your device or wearing blue light blocking glasses in the hour or two leading up to bedtime.

As we’ve spoken about previously (Do Night Shift Workers Need Blue Light Blocking Glasses?) we wear glasses from Swanwick Sleep and absolutely love them. Suss out their range here.

Dan wearing Aviator blue light blocking glasses from Swanwick Sleep – see website here.
Remember to keep your blue light blocking glasses on even when brushing your teeth! See what other Sleep aids are available from Swanwick Sleep – here

Special Secret – You’ll probably feel silly in the beginning when wearing these glasses, but stick with it. Make it a habit and soon enough your housemates and family will be buying a pair too!

6. Relax Your Body and Mind

Shutting down from the workday can be difficult even in the best of schedule scenarios, but add in a confused body clock, a whole lot of daylight and stress over how to get a decent amount of sleep, and it doesn’t take much to keep your mind wide awake.

Mindfulness techniques like meditation and guided imagery can help promote relaxation, as can certain breathing techniques like Dr. Andrew Weil’s  “4-7-8 breathing technique.” which we talk about here.

The goal is to flood your organs and tissues with an oxygen boost, and when practiced regularly, experts say it could help some people fall asleep faster. It can also help alleviate general anxiety or stress, even when you’re not trying to sleep.

Here are the steps:

  • Place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth
  • Exhale completely through your mouth and make a “whoosh” sound
  • Close your mouth and inhale through your nose while mentally counting to four
  • Hold your breath and mentally count to 7
  • Open your mouth and exhale completely, making a “whoosh” sound and mentally counting to 8
  • Repeat this cycle at least three more time

A few words of caution, some people have reported feeling a bit lightheaded the first time they try this. However, regular users say it becomes more and more powerful with repeated practice and recommend giving it a try at least twice per day.

If needed, you can start small, by only inhaling four times when you’re first beginning and gradually working your way up to seven or eight.

Special Secret – If the 4-7-8 method doesn’t work for you, here is a post with other weird and wonderful tips which will help you fall asleep quickly.

7. Limit Caffeine

 I know telling a shift worker to limit caffeine is like telling a mouse to give up cheese. 

It’s almost unfathomable. 

However, the key here is limiting stimulants as you get closer to bedtime, not cutting it entirely. A cup or two of coffee or tea to start your shift should be fine (although if you’re having trouble getting good rest you may need to take a closer look at that). 

“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendation for safe daily caffeine consumption sits around 400mg, or 4-5 cups of coffee per day. “

Sleep experts recommend stopping consumption at least six hours before bed. Inside this post Night Shift and Caffeine. How To Use It Wisely give a table showing the caffeine content of various beverages to help you determine how much you’re currently consuming, and if you need to adjust.

When enjoying your coffee, what tumbler/mug/cup/thermos do you like to use? We use the BEAST tumbler as we heard fabulous things about it. While it’s not perfect, it does the job well. Here is my review below, have a watch and see if it’s for you.

8. Drink Herbal Tea Before Bed (and avoid Alcohol)

While the thought of a night cap after a long, hard day sounds tempting, you may want to think twice before you grab that wine glass or beer bottle. 

It’s recommended the last four hours before bedtime be alcohol-free.

It’s true that a bit of booze may help you fall asleep initially, but health experts warn it could interfere with the quality of your sleep, including frequent wakings, night sweats, nightmares and headaches.

Related post: Is Surviving Night Shift with a Morning Beer a Good Idea?

Special Secret – We love this Sleepytime tea which we buy from Amazon. But I also enjoy a simple chamomile, vanilla and honey before bed.

9. Diet

This sounds like an obvious one, try to eat as much good, nutritious food as you can, and avoid fatty, processed or foods high in sugar.  However, when you’re driving to work at midnight, or heading home at 7am, your meal options can be limited to fast food, takeout or the company vending machine. And the craving for this kind of “bad” food can be intense!

Packing your own meals and snacks takes planning, but it can go a long way in priming your body for solid sleep.

There are some important points to consider when eating on nights to avoid nausea and bloating. This video we published explains what these foods are and why you should avoid them.

We’ve talked a lot about healthy eating on this blog. Here are a few blog posts which you will find helpful when packing your lunchbox.

Special Secret – One of the really quick ways I make sure I’m looking after myself in the diet department is through drinking SuperGreen TONIK. Now, I’ve tried a bunch of powered green juices but this one is by far my favorite and makes me feel the most energized. You can read my review here, or watch my video review here and see if it’s right for you.

10. Exercise

Like diet, exercise is a common recommendation for maximizing your health regardless of what shift you work.  Yet again, your options for exercise may be more limited depending on your hours. 

Aim for the recommended 20-30 minutes per day if possible. You may have to play around with timing as far as working out before, or even during, your shift, but some discipline and dedication will go a long way.

If your legs are aching due to being on your feet all day and the thought of exercising is nonexistent, this post will help explain what you can do to take the pain away and stop it from coming back next shift.

Special Secret – Just move your body in some way every day. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy gym session or HIIT class. 30 minutes at home streaming something from YouTube which gets your heart rate up is good enough.

If you need some exercise motivation, watch how I fit it in here.

Here’s a few other exercise and fitness posts you might find helpful;

11. Consider Your Commute

This is something that may be out of your control but the longer your commute, the more opportunity for drowsiness and fatigue to set in. 

Commute time should be a factor when even considering a shift work position and don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to ways to minimize your time behind the wheel. Can you rideshare? Take public transportation? Work remotely at times? Even if you don’t have much leeway, it’s at least worth a closer look.

This post will help you stay awake behind the wheel and help you get home safely.

Special Secret – Pack an eye mask, a small pillow and a weighted blanket in your car. If you’re going to nap on the side of the road, allow your body to quickly switch off by using these aids.

12. Set Boundaries

Shift work comes with sacrifice. Period. Whether it’s sleep, social activities, or simply taking the kids to school, working off hours means there are things you won’t be able to do because you need to sleep or work. Make sure the people closest to you understand that and respect that.

Ask family members or roommates to limit noise or certain activities during your sleep times. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, change your phone settings to minimize disruptions and resist the urge to accept social invites if they fall within your sleep window. 

Another important point to mention here is to set boundaries for yourself in NOT avoiding everyone. Getting caught in the sleep – work – eat rut is easy to do but can make you feel pretty down after a while. So give yourself something to look forward to and book a fun social event with your mates for after you’ve finished nights.

We have a lot of other night shift related posts which will also help you be a successful night shift worker. Take a look at these;

Simply put, shift work is not for everyone. After all, it’s more than just a schedule, it’s a lifestyle. One that can have long term impacts on your mental and physical health, your relationships and overall quality of life.  However, chances are you’re only doing shift work in the first place because the benefits outweigh the challenges.

I hope you find these hacks helpful and remember, with some planning, discipline and consistency, a good day’s sleep can always be within reach.


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Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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