Nontraditional job hours require special sleep considerations. Follow this smart strategy
- More than 22 million Americans work evening, rotating, or on-call shifts.
- Poor sleep can lead to fatigue, health issues, and an increased risk of work-related injuries.
- Focus on keeping to the same sleep schedule daily—even on days off—and taking naps prior to work.
Most sleep advice caters to those who hold nine-to-five jobs, but what if you work the night shift, as 22 million Americans do? Surprisingly, many of the same tips and tricks for achieving a quality sleep session still apply—including the importance of setting up a sleep schedule.
Why Is a Sleep Schedule Important?
Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule will improve your ability to fall asleep easily and sleep more soundly. It will also improve alertness and overall health for people who work during the middle of the night, which is important for the obvious reason (you need to feel awake to perform at your job) but also because it can reduces the odds of work-related injuries, which are more common when you are tired. Even driving home from work can be risky for a night shift worker if you are drowsy behind the wheel.
What Sleep Schedule Should I Follow?
The best sleep schedule for those who work nontraditional hours is one that’s consistent. While that may sound simple, it can take time to train your body and mind to sleep when you are used to being awake. Start by setting your alarm for the same time every afternoon or evening, and going to bed at the same time each morning when you get home. (Go to bed as soon as you can after leaving your job so that the natural daylight doesn’t confuse your body into staying awake. ) Follow this schedule even on weekends or days you’re not working in order to help shift your body clock, which is naturally wired to be tired at night.
Even though you are working nontraditional hours, your goal is still to achieve the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep once you get home. Napping is also helpful for night shift workers as it can improve alertness while on the job. Try taking a 90-minute nap before heading into work. When your shift is over, take another short 15-minute nap before driving home to help re-energize your body and mind, making the commute safer.
Remember to be patient when adjusting to your new sleep strategy. Rather than make the switch in sleep routine suddenly, it may be easier to take two weeks and move your sleep/wake time forward or back in 15-minute increments each day until you reach your desired schedule. If you are having trouble adapting to the new bedtime hours after a month or two, talk with your physician about other ways to get the sleep you need, no matter what your schedule.