Iowa Sleep Blog

5 Healthy Sleep Guidelines for Overnight Workers

Monday, March 31, 2014

If you’re one of the more than 22 million Americans working overnight either in third-shift or on-call positions, you’re likely to have experienced problems sleeping. These shifts often throw off regular sleep patterns and force workers to adjust their internal clocks. However, modifying sleep schedules often leaves these individuals unable to sleep, dealing with insomnia or always feeling tired on the job.

Iowa Sleep’s Dr. Steve Zorn shares five guidelines to help overnight workers sleep well:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule – even on the weekends. Going back to a typical schedule on your days off will make it harder for you to sleep during the day and stay awake all night during the work week.
  • Practice bright light therapy. Recent studies have shown that timed exposure to bright light can help adjust the body’s sleep cycle. This may help you shift your circadian rhythm and reverse your sleep/wake schedule so you are able to sleep during the day and be alert at night.
  • Use stimulants early in your shift. Stimulants such as caffeine can increase alertness and reduce sleepiness during your shift. It’s important to avoid caffeine within four hours of your bedtime since it may cause difficulties falling asleep, especially with your reversed schedule.
  • Consider your diet. Eat meals high in protein and carbohydrates to maintain energy throughout the night. Avoid fried foods and going to bed hungry, which can make it harder for you to fall into or maintain a deep sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and quiet.  Since you’re sleeping in the middle of the day, it’s more important than ever to make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet. This may mean investing in stronger window coverings to keep light out and unplugging or turning off your phone to avoid unexpected noises. Using a fan or sound machine to produce “white noise” can help prevent being disturbed from outside sounds.

Following these guidelines won’t just help your sleep better — they’ll keep your workplace safer, too. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, some of the most serious workplace accidents were linked to sleepy workers, including the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident and Exxon Valdez oil spill. Good sleep habits can reduce the harmful effects of shiftwork and leave you better rested and your workplace safer.

Contact our board-certified sleep doctors if the negative effects of shiftwork are consistently affecting your ability to sleep.

Do you frequently work overnight shifts? How do you keep a healthy sleep schedule? Please share in comments.