Tips from Shift Workers

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Shift workers often find it challenging to balance sleep and activities with their varying shifts. Shift workers often find there is not enough time between each shift to sleep and spend time with their friends or families before they have to get ready for their next shift. We asked a variety of shift workers how they balance their busy schedules in order to make sleep a priority.


Sarah L.: Nurse at a university HospitalSarah

What is your shift schedule?

7 pm - 7 am, three nights a week.

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

The biggest challenge for me is managing social activities. People who work normal hours don't always understand that I still need to sleep between/after work shifts and that I don't have the entire day free to do whatever I like.  Also, it can be difficult to motivate myself to be social after a few busy, stressful nights of work.  On my first day/night off, I may spend a few hours lazing around—I call that my night shift hangover.  Also, since I work different days each week (for example, one week it may be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday; another week it may be Tuesday, Thursday, Friday), I have to remember to check my work schedule before making plans because my free nights vary. 

What helps me…

I find it most helpful to group my shifts together so that I am not flipping back and forth between day and night schedules constantly throughout the week.  If I have the time and energy, I will exercise before going into work to experience daylight and work off some stress.   

The day after my last night shift, I will try to "short sleep" and wake up after only a few hours to make the most out of my day and get back on a normal schedule.  I also try to go to bed early that night to catch up on sleep. Napping also helps out.



Traci K.: Post production TV supervisor Traci

What is your shift schedule?

One week of a day schedule (9am – 5pm), then a week of a night schedule (5pm – 1:30 or 2:30am).  Every other week, I rotate back.  

What is your biggest challenge about working shifts?

My schedule is opposite from the rest of the world. It's great for going shopping, to the bank, doctor appointments, and so forth, but almost all school activities/meetings (plays, performances, sporting events) are held at night to accommodate someone working during the day. 

I’m also tired most of the time.  I try to take a nap whenever I can, but it's hard with little kids at home. 

What helps me…

I could not do this without support from a spouse, family (especially my mother), and friends. It takes immense juggling all of the time. When I work days, my husband works nights.  When I work nights, he works days.  I leave extensive notes explaining every event and detail that is happening if I will not be attending (what medicine each kid needs and at what time, what equipment is needed for each event and where that might be).  I choose sleep over all else when I have the chance to do it because if I don't get enough sleep, I’m tired, foggy and grumpy. Staying on top of things, having a clean house and feeling organized also makes me feel good.

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