A Night-shifter's Guide to a Good Day's Sleep

15 tips for night shifters to sleep better during the day. Nurses General Nursing Article

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A Night-shifter's Guide to a Good Day's Sleep

Night Shift

Someone must do it. It has its perks. The slower pace (sometimes); increased autonomy, closer relationships with your colleagues, and no suits. 

It also has its faults; left-over dayshift food, 8 am mandatory meetings, missing things at home, and sleeping during the day. 

Getting A Better Day's Sleep

It starts before you get off shift

✔️ Avoid caffeine 4 hours before you get off shift. This gives you time to metabolize it and decreases the effects on your body feeling tired. Just remember caffeine is in more than just coffee and energy drinks. Start reading your labels. 

The ride home

✔️ Wear sunglasses on the way home even if it is overcast. The reduction of light signals the body it is time to start winding down and getting ready for sleep.

Once home

✔️ Exercise is great! Just not before going to bed after your night shift and especially if you have to work the following night. This is a time to wind down, not up. 

✔️ Keep away from electronic screens and blue light. Recent research indicates that putting your phone on nightshift mode (which is supposed to cut down the blue light) does not improve sleep. You are still stimulating the brain and not signaling your body it is time to wind down. 

✔️ Do Not Disturb Sign on the front door – There are many choices of signs that indicate "sleeping night shifter, do not disturb". The signs can hang on your door or even fit over your electronic video doorbell, blocking access to the button while still allowing the camera view.  You can find these on various websites.

✔️ Put your phone on "do not disturb.” If you have special people that must contact you in an emergency, most phones have a setting to allow those calls and texts through. The rest of the world can wait.

✔️ Take a warm bath/ shower before bed - the drop in your body temperature when you get out will signal your brain it's time to sleep. This drop in body temperature is a natural occurrence at night and we are trying to mimic this. 

Set the stage in your room

✔️ Cool the Room - Drop the temperature in your room, turn on a fan. Research has shown having your room/ house temperature set between 60-67 degrees F, with 65 degrees being the optimal temperature, signals our bodies it is time to sleep. We are programmed to expect this lowering of our temperature at night already. We are just simulating it during the day. 

A side note, if there are others in the house during the day they can put on extra clothing. 

✔️ Wear light clothing to bed to help keep you cool.

✔️ Make your room as dark as possible. Light triggers you to stay awake. Use blackout curtains or even aluminum foil on the windows or both. If you cannot cover the windows, then use a face mask that is comfortable and fits well. Also, cover the light that comes from the alarm clock and the TV buttons. 

✔️ White Noise: Get a white noise machine or use a fan. The fan now has two uses, keeps you cool and act as white noise machine. This way, the neighbor mowing at 9 am does not jar you awake. 

✔️ Silence is golden. If you are one of those sleepers that must have it perfectly quiet, invest in earplugs, unless you are on call, of course. 

✔️ If you are hungry, eat something small like Greek yogurt, cottage cheese or peanut butter on toast before going to bed. There is nothing worse than waking up halfway through your "night" with hunger pains and rugae music (rugae are the muscles in the stomach) playing their tune. 

✔️ There are few trains of thought as to when you should go to sleep. Some experts say go to sleep as soon as you get home. Others say take the split-napping approach... Nap when you get home, get up and go back to sleep before you head out for your shift. Some say stay up for a little while as if you were on a normal 0900-1700 job and go to bed at the same time would normally go to sleep on a day shift job, just 12 hours different. Long story short, you need to figure out what works for you. 

✔️ Sleep as long as possible. The goal is to avoid a sleep deficit. 

The name of the game is to mimic a normal evening routine. By implementing the above suggestions, this will lead to getting a better day's sleep. 


How You Can Sleep Better If You Work the Night Shift

How to get good sleep, even if you're a shift worker

NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Is Night Shift really helping you sleep better?

The Best Temperature for Sleep

Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm

Before-bedtime passive body heating by warm shower or bath to improve sleep: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Tips for Shift Workers

11 Ways To Get Better Sleep After A Night Shift

Laura Smith is a BSN, RN and AGACNP-BC Nurse Practitioner. Holding advanced specialty as an Orthopedic Massage Therapist and Anatomy and Physiology instructor for over 20 years. Her specialties include ICU, Cardiology, Emergency Medicine and Trauma Services. She enjoys teaching new upcoming medical personnel, Nurses and Nurse Practitioners to be the best they possibly can be. Laura has a passion to help translate “medical speak” to non-medical people, helping the public to become more educated and informed in the growing complexities of the medical field. She is also a freelance medical writer who creates high-quality content for media brands and their affiliates. Laura’s ultimate goal is to blend her very diverse careers together to help serve, educate and inspire others.

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4 Articles; 2,537 Posts

Specializes in New Critical care NP, Critical care, Med-surg, LTC.

All very good tips! I think another thing that people have to work out for themselves on night shift is how they eat. I feel best when I fast overnight and don't eat until I wake up the next day. But I have many coworkers that find that fasting doesn't work for them at all and food is a necessary part of staying awake overnight. 

Long Term Care Columnist / Guide

VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN

22 Articles; 9,986 Posts

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

I used to warm up my blanket and comforter by tossing them in the dryer before I took my hot bath in the morning. Being cradled in warm bedding made falling asleep much easier. I turned off my phone and put a sign on my front door that said “Night shift nurse, please don’t disturb my sleep.” Most of the time I got through a day’s sleep in good shape. 

Lynker, LPN

296 Posts

Specializes in LTC & Rehab Supervision.

Thank you! I'll be going back to my overnight job in a few weeks, and this showed up at the perfect time. 

April Conner BSN RN

2 Articles; 4 Posts

Specializes in Dialysis Nurse, Freelance Nurse Writer.

Great article! I especially liked the tip about putting a sign on the door. When I used to work the night shift, I always hated getting woken up in the early afternoon by a random knock at the door! It was so hard to go back to sleep and it would leave me with only 4 or 5 hours of sleep for that day! I definitely don't miss those days.

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