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Night Duty Sleep Patterns


I've had dreadful trouble sleeping after night duty for years, and nothing seems to work. Can I ask you all how you manage your sleep patterns during night duty, and how you manage sleep after you finish your rotation? Historically, I've always crashed as soon as I get home from the shift and sleep through until I wake, but I rarely get more than 4 hours.

I'd like to find a decent pattern, as I love my colleagues on nights, and the work is great. I just feel like a zombie at 4am!!

The polyphasic sleep was too weird, but I'm trying the Siesta Sleep cycle, and that seems to work better than one solid sleep.

What do you all do?


Edited by TheCommuter


Specializes in Med-Surg. Has 1 years experience.

Everyone is different, but here is what I do...

I usually keep a "night schedule" even on my days off. I am a night owl naturally and this seems to work for me. On days when I get off work (07:00) I unwind for about an hour at home then sleep from about 09:00 until 15:00 or so. On days I am off I will stay awake until about 06:00 and sleep until around 13:00. These days are the ones that I have trouble with. Since I am not tired from working I can have difficulty sleeping, especially if the sun is already up.

To help me sleep I have blackout curtains on my bedroom (doubled so no light at all comes in, it's like a cave), and I use a large fan for white noise. I keep it very cold in my room, because that's how I sleep best. Texts and calls are on vibrate only so no one wakes me up. Everyone in my family/friends knows my schedule.

Also, when driving home from work I wear sunglasses so I don't perk up too much. I just started taking melatonin 5mg on my days off and find that it helps. Weather it's the actual medicine or just my belief in it, I don't know, but I get naturally sleepy after taking it and I don't question it, lol.

The most important thing I do to keep myself feeling normal is that I do not try to fight/worry about my sleep schedule. I sleep when I am tired and wake up when I am ready. In the past when I started nights I would be in tears over worrying about sleep. It stressed me out and made me depressed. Today I am awake and have been since 07:00... I went to sleep at 04:00. I don't work tonight and know I will probably take a nap later, so I am just enjoying being awake during normal people hours for now. I LOVE naps.

If you need help staying awake I do not have much help... I just drink massive amounts of coffee.

I hope some of this helps! Everyone is different and I hope that you find what works for you. What is your sleep schedule like now, and what so you have trouble with?

Several of my coworkers work their shifts 3 in a row so that they have 4 days off and they revert to "days" when off work.

la_chica_suerte85, BSN, RN

Specializes in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.

I second the melatonin recommendation. My partner switches days and nights and has been on nights for the last 6 mos. When, for whatever reason, it becomes too tough for her to fall asleep during the day, melatonin does the trick. I've used it (since I keep a night schedule with her) when I had a hard time sleeping nights before clinicals. It DOES WORK but it can do different things to different people. I really only use it when I'm desperate (I prefer Kava or Valerian, tea or pill) but I feel it gives me terrible dreams and that I'm not really asleep -- I feel like I'm conscious throughout the night. But the Kava or Valerian are much more gentler though less effective and I use it when I know I'm likely to be too keyed up to relax to sleep or have had a stressful day.

Also, exercise helps a lot. I also second keeping your schedule if you can. My partner refuses to since she feels she is missing out on life on her days off. I really wish she wouldn't, though. It really isn't doing her any favors. So, if you can, you should keep your schedule. It's less jarring to switch back and forth.

Ruby Vee, BSN

Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching. Has 40 years experience.

If melatonin works for you, use it. Personally, I find that Ambien works better, but I'm getting to the point where I'm needing to use more Ambien. Keeping your night hours as much as possible helps, too. On my days off, I sleep until I wake up then will go to bed at 3 or 4 in the morning.

Make sure everyone you know is aware that you are sleeping during the daytime -- you may have to re-educate some folks. For instance, my father used to call at 2 PM just to chat . . . until I called him at 2AM a couple of times! Black-out curtains and a fan help as well.

During the 4AM slump at work (or whatever time your slump hits you), I hydrate and have a little snack, then walk around the unit a few times fast. Or go down to the main floor and walk for 10 or 15 minutes. (This place is so big I could walk for far longer!) I don't usually wear sunglasses on the ride home -- the child ran over my prescription sunglasses and I haven't been able to get them replaced until I get a new prescription -- but that seems like a great idea.

Make sure you eat something healthy at night -- I know lots of young'uns who just snack all night, and that's not good for them. Regular exercise helps, too. Good luck!