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How To Adjust To Night Shift

Updated on April 15, 2014

How to Cope With Working Night Shift

If you are new to shift work you might be wondering what are some tips and tricks for how to adjust to night shift. I have worked night shift in a 3 different ways.

First there was a 3 shift rotation format (days, nights, afternoons). Then I worked steady nights for a few years while I was going to night school. Right now I am working on a continental night shift. Which means working 12 hour shifts for 2 or 3 days in a row, then having 2 or 3 days off.

When I started working night shifts I was still living at home with my family and I have worked it while living alone. So I have the first hand experience to let you know what has worked and what hasn't in both environments. I will share with you some of the physical and mental things that you can do to help you adjust to working night shift.

Photo By Wing-Chi Poon (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

How To Adjust Your Sleep Pattern

Photo By Shanghai killer whale (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you are going to be starting a night shift after you have been working a day or afternoon shift for a while, then you will need to adjust your sleep schedule. I have found the best way to do this is to gradually start pushing back the time you go to sleep at and then sleeping in as late as possible. This will give you the best chance at making it all the way through your first shift without crashing.

It will be less of a shock to your system if you change over slowly, rather then just trying to suddenly stay awake all night. So if you presently go to sleep at 10pm and wake up at 6am, try staying up until 12pm and sleeping until 8am. Then each day try staying up and sleeping in even later until you get to the time frame that you need.

Once you hit the proper time to fall asleep at stick to that time everyday. The best thing you can do for your body is to stick to the same sleeping pattern, even on your days off.

Make Your Room Dark To Help You Sleep Better

An important factor for helping you to adjust to night shift is the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep during the daytime. One of the things that has helped me the most is to make sure that the room I am sleeping in is as dark as possible.

When I first moved out my parents had thermal blackout curtains that they gave me to use. I put them up in my living room and slept on the couch as that was where my air conditioner was located. These curtains were great as they kept the room dark but they also kept the room cooler in the summertime so my air conditioner didn't have to work so hard

Now that I have a better air conditioning unit I can sleep in my own bed in the summertime. So I bought a blackout rolling blind to put behind the curtains in my bedroom. It has made a huge difference in the amount of light in my bedroom.

Eclipse Fresno 52 by 84-Inch Blackout Window Curtain (Single Panel), Black
Eclipse Fresno 52 by 84-Inch Blackout Window Curtain (Single Panel), Black

These will give you beautiful looking curtains that block out the light, noise and temperature variations.

 
Thermalogic Ultimate Window Liner - 45"W x 77"L
Thermalogic Ultimate Window Liner - 45"W x 77"L

This is what my parents gave me when I moved out.

 

When Working 12 hour Night Shifts

Get To Bed As Soon As You Can

You have a limited amount of time to get your rest

It needs to be your first priority

Tips For Continental or 12 Hour Night Shift Workers

If you are working a Continental or 12 hour night shift you need to make getting rest your first priority. The window of time for you to get your rest is smaller so you should try to make sure you go to bed as soon after your shift as possible.

Do not schedule appointments or do errands on the days that you have to work. Make sure you get all of your appointments and errands like grocery shopping done on your day off. That way on the days that you have to work you can spend the limited time that you have resting and spending time with family and friends.

One of the things I recommend is to go online and search for any 24 hour businesses in your area. We have a few grocery and drug stores in my area that are open 24 hours so it is easy to shop on my days off. My dentist, car repair shop, and hair dresser also have certain days when they stay open a little later. I use those days to book my appointments.

Ways To Help You Stay Asleep

Photo By Colorstefan (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The ability to stay asleep during the daytime is dependent on avoiding noises that can awaken you. So I recommend letting your friends and family know that you are going to be working nights. Let them know at what time you will be sleeping during the day, so that won't call you when you are sleeping.

Keep in my mind telemarketers don't know or care what shift you are on and they will call during the day. So I recommend you remove your cellphone and/or shut the ringer off any phone that is in the room that you are going to be sleeping in.

For normal day to day noise I just turn my television on at a low volume so as to create a white noise. I know someone else who likes to use a fan for their white noise and another who swears by using his sleep machine.

Some people use earplugs to block out noise. I find them to be kind of annoying so I only use them when there is going to be a constant loud noise that can not be avoided, like when we were having the shingles on our roof replaced.

Products To Help You Sleep

Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams Contoured Sleep Mask with Earplugs and Carry Pouch, Black
Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams Contoured Sleep Mask with Earplugs and Carry Pouch, Black

This has a sleep mask which contours away from your eyes. That way you don't have pressure on your eyes. It also comes with a set of ear plugs to help block out any noise.

 
Marpac Dohm-DS All-Natural White Noise Sound Machine, Tan
Marpac Dohm-DS All-Natural White Noise Sound Machine, Tan

This is the sleep machine that my friend raves about. It offers the white noise of a fan without the air circulation.

 
Sound+Sleep High Fidelity Sleep Sound Machine with Real Non-Looping Nature Sounds, Fan Sounds, White Noise, and Adaptive Sound Technology
Sound+Sleep High Fidelity Sleep Sound Machine with Real Non-Looping Nature Sounds, Fan Sounds, White Noise, and Adaptive Sound Technology

This one offers a variety of noises to use to fall asleep. It is one of the best rated ones on the market.

 

Adjust Your Mentality

One of the reasons people struggle with sleeping while working the night shift is they feel that they are "sleeping the day away". If that is a problem for you, look at it in a different way.

If you were working day shift you would be working during the day for eight hours and sleeping at night for eight hours. So you normally wouldn't be available during the day because you would be working. When you are working night shift all you are doing is switching which hours that you sleep and work.

You will still have your regular time in the evening to spend with your family and friends. So in terms of your free time nothing really changes, it is all about perception.

Wake-Up Light

One of the things that can help your state of mind is a wake-up light. It is supposed to simulate a sunrise, which will help your body prepare to wake up.

It is a multifunction alarm clock that has a light on it that comes on and then it gets brighter as it gets closer to the time for you to wake up. You can set the brightness level of the light to your liking.

If you are worried that a light won't wake you up , it does come with a FM radio and two other nature noises to make sure that you wake up.

Philips Hf3470 Wake-up Light,  White
Philips Hf3470 Wake-up Light, White

This one is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

 

Will a ClockRadio Philips Hf3470 Wake-up-Light White Work On A Rooster?

Do Not Disturb Enter at Your Own Risk

Living With Others

If you live with other people (family or roommates) make sure they know the hours that you need for them to be quiet and not to disturb you unless it is an emergency. Then to be safe make sure you go over with them (and they understand) what is and isn't an emergency.

If you live in a house I would recommend that you try to stay on a separate floor. Try to get as much space as you can from the people who are awake. Even people who are trying to be quiet will end up making some noise.

Additional Tips

  • Avoid drinking caffeine at least 4 hours before the end of your shift. If you need it to stay awake then drink it earlier in your shift. If you drink it to close to the end of your shift you will have problems falling asleep.

  • Wear sunglasses on your drive home from work to limit your exposure to the sun. The sun will send the signal to wake up, at a time when you need to start feeling drowsy soon.

  • When you first switch over onto night shift make sure you have something to eat before you go to bed. I don't recommend a large meal as that can keep you awake. However you want to eat something or you will wake up because you are hungry. I also suggest having something that you can quickly snack on nearby. That way if you wake up hungry you might be able to have something to eat and then get some more rest.

  • You will need to be more aware when you are driving home from work as you will be drowsy. I am so glad after my first shift my boss warned me that when you get to a stop sign or a stop light you will start to fall asleep. I thought he was nuts when he said he it, but then I got to my first stop light and he was right. You may have to roll down your window (even in the middle of winter) and blast your stereo to stay awake.

What Are Your Tips For Adjusting To Night Shift?

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    • queenofduvetcover profile image

      queenofduvetcover 3 years ago

      I have days where I have to work until 9 pm or 10:00 and it's not easy. I don't think I would be able to work a night shift. Although, these tips will definitely help. =)

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 3 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I worked 4pm-12am for 25 years. I loved that shift after about 10 tens of it. The night shift 12am-8am was the pits. I was a zombie. Maybe I would have adjusted, but I was very glad to be rid of that time shift.

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      I made sure to change the time of day I had my first cup of coffee. That helped a lot.