Many people follow schedules that require them to work at night and sleep during the day. While some adjust to this routine rather quickly, others experience trouble falling asleep in the daylight hours due to a mismatch between their body’s circadian rhythm and natural light cycles. Roughly 18.5% of night shift workers meet the diagnostic criteria for insomnia, compared to 8.6% of day shift workers.
Nailing down a daytime sleep routine can be quite challenging at first, but taking certain measures at home and practicing good sleep hygiene can expedite this process and help you get the right amount of rest.
Most adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should receive seven to nine hours of sleep every 24 hours. There is some wiggle room with these numbers, but we don’t recommend sleeping fewer than six hours or more than 10 hours per day.
Let’s say you work from 9 pm to 5 am five days per week. Assuming a moderate commute each way, this leaves you with 14-15 hours allotted to personal time and a few options for planning your sleep schedule.
Some night shift workers prefer to get home and stay up for a few hours before going to bed, as one might do on a traditional 9-5 work schedule. Others prefer the split-nap routine. This consists of a moderate nap immediately after arriving home, a period of wakefulness, and a longer nap in the hours before work.
Experts agree both options are effective. The key is to plan your sleep so that you wake up close to the start time of your shift. Additionally, you should strive to sleep and wake up at the same times every day, including weekends and when you’re on vacation.
If possible, ask your supervisor if you can work the same shift every day, rather than following a rotating schedule that requires you to work different hours for your shifts. With a steady schedule, your circadian rhythm will eventually adjust to the work hours. A rotating schedule forces you to readjust every few days, making it hard for your body to fall into a natural hormonal rhythm.
If you must work a rotating schedule, ask your supervisor if it’s possible to “rotate forward,” or rotate day to swing to night to morning shifts in that order. Your circadian rhythm will have an easier time adjusting to this natural progression, as opposed to rotating back in the opposite direction (e.g. going to bed progressively earlier instead of later) or rotating shifts in a random pattern.
Think of your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary. You should immediately feel relaxed and ready to sleep as soon as you enter the room. The following sleep hygiene practices can help you achieve this goal:
If you’re sleeping in a new place or a bedroom that isn’t your own, you can customize the space to some extent by bringing your own sleep accessories, such as a pillow or pajamas.
To ensure an adequate amount of rest, you should do the following at work or at home before going to sleep:
Lastly, a word about melatonin supplements. Many people take these over-the-counter sleep aids to get more rest and some people find melatonin helpful for correcting circadian rhythm issues, but you should always speak to your doctor before trying this medication. For some people, melatonin supplements have adverse effects on their sleep-wake rhythms.