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How Can I Adjust My Sleep Schedule to Work Night Shifts?

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Updated March 04, 2013

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Question: How Can I Adjust My Sleep Schedule to Work Night Shifts?

Whether it is working in a hospital setting, as a night manager at a hotel, in a 24-hour convenience store, or at a late-night diner, there are countless professions that may force you to work night shifts. These late hours can be hard on the body, and if you don't adjust your sleep schedule adequately, you may quickly find yourself suffering from insomnia and sleep deprivation. If you are in this situation, you may wonder how you can adjust your sleep schedule to work night shifts.

Answer:

It is very difficult to maintain a non-traditional sleep schedule, but many people are able to do it successfully.

First, it is key that you minimize your exposure to morning light when you come off your shift. If possible, wear dark sunglasses when leaving work. Try to minimize light exposure until after you have slept.

As in all situations, it will be important to establish a regular sleep schedule and consolidate your sleep periods. That is, rather than sleeping for a few hours at times scattered throughout the day, it is better to try to sleep in one long stretch as you would at night. This will train your body to establish a new circadian rhythm, allowing you to be awake during the night and asleep during the day.

If you are having difficulties sleeping long enough to feel rested, there are a few simple guidelines you can follow.

  • Pick a time that you want to go to sleep, and then sleep as much as you can.
  • When you get up, stay up. Don't allow yourself to go back and sleep more.
  • Go to work or do whatever you have to do until your next scheduled bedtime. Then go to bed at that time.
  • Sleep as long as you can.

Eventually, you will build up enough "sleep debt" that you will be tired enough to sleep for a longer period of time.

In time, your body will become used to sleeping and working during these untraditional hours. Exposure to light when you get up, and minimizing exposure right before you go to sleep, will also help. In addition, it will be important to follow the basic sleep guidelines to improve the quality of your sleep.

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