How to have a good sleep when doing shift work?

What is shift work?

Shift work means you regularly work during times when others are sleeping. This includes:

  • Night shifts
  • Evening shifts
  • Rotating shifts (shifts that change at different times each week)

Why does shift work cause sleep problems?

Your body is designed to sleep at night and be awake during the day. But people who do shift work often have to try to sleep when there is light outside. These changes in your normal sleeping patterns can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep throughout the night, or wake up feeling refreshed.

You may find it hardest to adjust when your schedule first changes or if you return to a typical daytime schedule after working a non-traditional shift, such as nights or evenings. Even if you’ve been working non-traditional hours for years, these disruptions can affect your health.

paramedics working night shift
Photo by Mikhail Nilov on

Regularly working at night or rotating shifts can disrupt your body’s natural sleep patterns and cause insomnia. This is known as shift work sleep disorder. In shift work sleep disorder individuals find it difficult to fall asleep at their designated bedtime and find it difficult to stay awake during working hours.

If you work at night or often rotate shifts, you may have a higher risk for sleep disorders. Shift work can keep you from getting the regular snooze time that most daytime workers take for granted.

What is sleep hygiene and how to follow it?

Because shift work interferes with your body’s internal clock, the key to good sleep is resetting that clock.

Your body’s internal clock is set by sunlight and your daily routine. When you’re working at night, you’re fighting against your body’s natural desire to be awake in the daytime and sleep at night.

Sleep hygiene is a set of practices followed and certain changes done in the sleeping environment in order to have a sleep with good quality.

#1 Have a consistent schedule for sleep

Following the same sleep schedule every day is good for your health. If you are doing night shifts on most days try to follow that sleep schedule on other days as well. But this may not be possible in all occasions.

sleep hygiene tips for better health

Adjust your shift in a way that you do not have to do rotating shifts frequently. Our circadian rhythm of the body needs to be maintained to have a good sleep. When possible, try to go to bed at the same time every day.

Everyday have a daily routine before sleep. Have a shower, write your journal or do meditation or prayers and then go to bed. Following a routine teaches the brain that you are getting ready to fall asleep. After sometime of practice this promotes the rhythm of falling sleep and makes it easier to fall asleep after you complete your routine and got to bed.

#2 Coffee and sleep

Having a cup of coffee makes you awake, so better to have it once you wake up to do your shift work. Coffee is a healthy way to reduce sleepiness while boosting metabolism.

sleep hygiene tips for better health

It is also important to remember that coffee in the late hours of the shift or else prior to bedtime will have an impact on your sleep. Since coffee is a substance that makes you awake and alert it also results in poor sleep. So, if you take coffee prior to your bedtime, it will become difficult to fall asleep after your shift.

#3 Exercise and sleep

Get some exercise — but not too close to bedtime. It may not be easy if you work nights, but physical activity early in the day can help you stay alert while you’re at work and improve your sleep later on. Doing aerobic exercises help towards better quality of sleep.

sleep hygiene tips for better health

But don’t exercise within two hours of going to bed — it could keep you up at night.

#4 Effects of alcohol

sleep hygiene tips for better health

Using alcohol before bedtime may have several bad effects on your sleep as well as your health. It promotes daytime drowsiness (after you wake up) as well as other several adverse effects on your health. So, alcohol before bedtime is not good for better quality of sleep.

#5 Adjust the lighting of the room

Light signals human brain that it is daytime and it is needed to stay awake. Light from your mobile phone, room or else from the surrounding can lead to poor sleeps quality. Here are some useful tips that you may try to adjust the lighting of the room.

sleep hygiene tips for better health
  • Do not take phone calls or use mobile phone in bed
  • Make the sleeping room dark and cool
  • Use blackout curtains or blinds to reduce the outdoor light entering into your room
  • Use eyewear / eye masks to block sunlight while sleeping
  • Try to have a quiet environment to sleep
  • Ask your roommates / family members not to disturb you during your bed-time

At work just do the opposite. Keep your workplace well-lit if possible. Exposure to good light can improve alertness as well.

#6 Naps before bedtime?

sleep hygiene tips for better health

It is found that longer naps close to bedtime as well as frequent napping in worktime can reduce the quality of sleep. It may lead to sleep fragmentation as well. Therefore, longer naps before bedtime can have an adverse effect for a good sleep after your shift.

#7 Duration of sleep

sleep hygiene tips for better health duration of sleep

Get enough sleep. It can be a challenge to get 8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period if you work nights or irregular shifts. But it’s important that you do. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may not be alert enough to do your job safely or well. You may also be at greater risk for health problems and accidents.

#8 Waking up

Get exposure to bright light when you first wake up for the day and during breaks from work. If you have access to outdoor light, take advantage of it.

sleep hygiene tips for better health

Follow a regular schedule. Sticking to a regular wake-up and bedtime can help your body adapt to being awake and asleep at specific times of the day.

Waking up and going to bed at the same time will help keep your internal clock regulated. Even on days off work, try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. Having trouble with this? Try using an alarm for waking up.



Thus, for a shift worker to change a bad sleeping habit, sleep hygiene practices are of utmost importance. Having good quality of sleep is essential in order to reduce sleepiness while driving and ensuring alertness during the night shift.

To be considered good sleep hygiene, the presented practices and environmental modifications should be done in a regular basis. Good sleep hygiene means gaining knowledge of your sleeping pattern and then adjusting it to ensure that you are getting the best quality rest.

I hope that this post will provide helpful tips to those of you who experience difficulty sleeping due to shift work. But more importantly, I hope that it will inspire you to maintain a healthy body and mind – if only because sleep is a gateway to better health and well-being. Ultimately, good sleep hygiene will help prevent incidents or injury as well as make your shift time easier.

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About Author

Chaleepa Mallawa

Chaleepa is working as a doctor based in Sri Lanka. He has interest in content creation based on health, science, tech and motivation.