A woman with insomnia with a clock behind her and a clock inside of her

Sleep Tips for Third Shift Workers

As a sleep technologist, patients often ask me, “How’s your sleep?”

This is in reference to working the night shift. I usually readily admit to it not being good. Then jokingly I add, "I am like the plumber with bad pipes or the carpenter with an unfinished house."

If you’re a third shifter, you know the challenges of sleeping well in the daytime and working with good energy at night.

Why is third shift so difficult?

The reason it’s difficult is because it’s unnatural. You know...think of running against the wind, swimming against the current. Even though these examples are unnatural or hard they are at least beneficial when accomplished. Working third shift doesn’t provide much benefit if any.

The reason it’s hard and unnatural is because each of us has an internal clock called a circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm regulates our wake-sleep cycles. So, essentially I am working against natural design and if you’re a third shifter, you are as well.

Third shift is not ideal

In this article, I hope to provide you with a few tricks to help you manage third shift. But before I start I would like to put this disclaimer in here. I am sure there's an exception to the rule, but I believe for the majority, working night shift isn’t good for you, whether it be relational, health-wise, or emotional.

With that said, I think the best suggestion I can make to you is to find a new job. I understand that’s not always possible and if it isn’t for you, hopefully, the tips in the next section will be helpful.

Sleep tips for workers on a third shift schedule

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule
  • I understand the temptation of wanting to flip back to a regular sleep schedule on your days off. But in my experience, the best thing for your body is consistency. If I can’t completely talk you into it, I am willing to compromise a little. Perhaps you can try going to bed a little earlier than your working shift time and get up a few hours before your normal wake-up time. This can hopefully help your social and relational life with staying somewhat consistent.

    Avoid light

    Rarely would I suggest that someone avoids light, but in this circumstance, I believe it’s helpful. On your drive home wear a pair of sunglasses to help diminish the sunlight. Also, try and make sure your room is dark. If possible, try to sleep in a room with limited windows and cover the windows with room darkening shades. I actually went a step further and covered my shades with a sheet and a sleeping bag. Try to simulate the night as best you can.

  • Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep
  • I think one of the most difficult things to do when working third shift is to sleep 7 to 9 hours. I don’t know how it is for each third shift worker, but I sleep really well for 4 to 5 hours before waking up and it’s difficult to return back to good sleep. If this is you, perhaps a good thing to do would be to get up for a couple of hours and return back to the bedroom once again for a few more hours of sleep. This would total 7 to 9 hours of sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine
  • No caffeine within 4 hours of your sleep. I believe this will be helpful in sleeping the entirety of the 7to 9 hours of recommended sleep.

Ultimately working night isn’t ideal, but these are few ways to help! If you are a night shifter and have helpful suggestions please share in the comments below. Questions welcome too!

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