Nearly 15 million people in the U.S. work the night shift or a schedule that takes place outside of regular business hours. While there may be some benefits to shift work, such as a desirable salary or more free time during the day, people who work the night shift may feel tired and struggle to stay awake on the job.
Experts say you may be able to reduce night shift tiredness by getting plenty of good sleep when you can and staying on a consistent schedule. We discuss specific strategies to help you head into your night shift well-rested, whether you’re a healthcare provider, emergency responder, utility operator, or other night shift worker.
Schedule Your Naps Based on the Length of Your Shift
A planned nap during your shift may also help you feel more alert. If your shift is eight hours or fewer, a 30-minute nap may re-energize you. But you may need a longer nap if you’re going to be working 12 hours or more.
If you take a longer nap before or during your shift, you may feel grogginess when you wake up, known as sleep inertia. It should resolve within about 30 minutes, but having caffeine, washing your face, or being exposed to bright light may wake you up more quickly. Be sure to allow time for sleep inertia to go away before attempting tasks that require careful attention.
Strategically Use Caffeine
Consume small doses of caffeine throughout your shift to maximize its effects. Be sure not to have caffeine too late in your shift or within eight hours of your planned bedtime to avoid disrupting your sleep schedule.
If you are going to take a nap during your shift, it may be beneficial to take caffeine right before you doze off. The stimulating properties of caffeine don’t take effect for about 30 minutes, so having a cup of coffee before a short nap shouldn’t upset your sleep. Rather, it may help you feel more awake and refreshed when you wake up.
Exercise Before Your Shift
Getting some exercise early in the evening to help prepare for your night shift. A 20-minute walk or bike ride may wake your body up and keep you energized. Just be careful not to overexert yourself, or the opposite effect may happen, and you may be too tired to work.
Try to Break Up Your Work
Engaging in repetitive tasks for long periods of time at work may make you feel sleepy. To combat this fatigue, try taking breaks, walking around, stretching, or alternating the activities you’re working on. Even talking to coworkers may help you stay alert. An interactive and busy shift may be key to staying sharp.
Get Exposure to Light
If you begin to feel drowsy during the night shift, working in brighter light may help you feel more alert. That’s because light exposure affects when a person feels tired or alert, and may help shift the timing of sleep. Working in a brightly lit area for most of your shift, or taking breaks for light exposure throughout your shift, may wake you up and solidify your sleep schedule.
Ask the Sleep Doctor
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