The Overnight Worker's Guide to Sleep

The Overnight Worker's Guide to Sleep

The Overnight Worker’s Guide to Sleep

An estimated 4% of Americans work a night shift. As of 2023, that’s more than 13.4 million people working while the rest of us are asleep.

Working a night shift is hardly a new concept. Since the invention of the light bulb extended working hours in the 1800s, many organizations have utilized a night shift to improve efficiency. Some industries — including logistics, shipping, and transportation — consider their night shift to be a particularly essential cog in their overall workforce. Other lifestyles, including students sleeping between study sessions and new parents, also require a diversified rest schedule.

Being an overnight worker is no easy feat. While the rest of the world slumbers, you’re awake, keeping the wheels of the world turning. Whether you're in healthcare, media, security, or any other sector that requires 24/7 operation, working the night shift can be taxing on your body and mind.

One of the most significant challenges of night shift work is finding time for full, restorative sleep. 

Here’s the bad news: getting a full amount of sleep can be more difficult for overnight workers than for traditional employees.

Here’s the good news: it’s not impossible for overnight workers, or other employees who work non-traditional hours, to fully restore their energy levels with the right amount of sleep.

How Do I Prioritize Sleep as an Overnight Worker?

If you work while the majority of the world sleeps, you’re going to have a tougher time sleeping when your shift is over. Your body is naturally inclined to sleep when the sun goes down. After all, a lack of sunlight is traditionally associated with your body’s creation of melatonin - one of the critical hormones that encourages you to rest.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find rest after a night shift. It only means that you’ll need to be aware of your circadian rhythm, implement a consistent bedtime routine, and upgrade your sleep materials. It’s also a good idea to track your sleep patterns to learn how and when you achieve the best-quality sleep.

1. Understand Your Body's Circadian Rhythms

Your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is naturally set to be awake during the day and asleep at night. This rhythm is influenced by environmental cues like light and temperature. As an overnight worker, you’re essentially asking your body to operate in reverse.

The first step in achieving productive sleep as an overnight worker is simply understanding, and accepting, this fact. Even if you’ve had a full 7-9 hours of sleep, your body might feel as nourished and energized as you’d expect.

2. Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Sanctuary

Now it’s time to get to one of the steps you control: your bedroom environment. As much as possible, reserve your bedroom for sleep and intimacy. Send emails, watch television, and eat meals in other parts of your home. This helps your body mentally separate your bedroom environment from other rooms — no matter the time of day.

Here are a few more ways to optimize your bedroom environment for sleep:

  • Blackout curtains: Invest in blackout curtains or blinds that block out the sunlight and help convince your body that it’s nighttime. Sleep masks can also be beneficial for this same purpose.
  • Mute background noise: Consider using earplugs or a white noise machine to drown out daytime noises outside or inside your home. Avoid sleeping in a room that faces a busy street.
  • Maintain a comfortable temperature: A cooler room promotes better sleep. Try setting your thermostat between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (15-19 degrees Celsius).
  • Avoid stimulants: Stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can disrupt your sleep patterns. Limit your intake of stimulants well before you plan on heading to bed.

3. Establish a Routine

Whether it's reading a book, practicing deep breathing, or listening to calming music, establishing a consistent bedtime routine can signal to your body that it's time to wind down and prepare for rest.

The most important factor in reinforcing your bedtime routine is consistency. As much as possible, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time, even on your days off. This helps to reset your internal clock and keep your body on a consistent internal schedule. It also helps your body learn to sleep and wake on a non-traditional schedule.

4. Limit Exposure to Blue Light

Limiting exposure to blue light is vital for overnight workers. It can help you maintain a natural sleep-wake rhythm, ensuring that you spend energy during your shift and naturally drift to sleep once you get back home. This reduced exposure to blue light improves sleep quality, making it easier for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.

5. Dietary Considerations

Your diet plays a key role in your overall physical health, and the quality of your sleep is no exception. A nutrient-rich diet — one that’s high in fruits, vegetables, and minerals — offers several benefits to your sleep. If you work an overnight shift, those benefits are even more important in promoting rest and recovery during your time off.

Here are a few suggestions for an optimized diet that assists your sleep:

  • Limit heavy meals: Eating a large meal before sleeping can cause discomfort and indigestion. Opt for a light, nutritious snack if you're hungry.
  • Moderate your protein intake: Consuming a moderate amount of protein, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, or plant-based sources like tofu and legumes, can help stabilize blood sugar levels. This helps you avoid spikes or crashes and optimize your sleep patterns.
  • Choose healthy fats: Opt for sources of healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin D, which plays a role in regulating sleep.
  • Stay appropriately hydrated: Dehydration can disrupt sleep, so it's essential to stay hydrated throughout the day. However, avoid excessive fluid intake right before bedtime to minimize nighttime awakenings to use the restroom.
  • Consider herbal teas: Herbal teas like chamomile and valerian root can have mild sedative effects and promote relaxation, making them suitable choices before bedtime.

6. Stay Active

While it might sound counterintuitive, staying active and getting regular exercise can actually improve your sleep quality. However, try not to exercise immediately before bedtime as it can have the opposite effect, making you more alert.

Staying active also means limiting naps during your shift, even if you have a break that permits one. While short power naps can be beneficial, long or irregular napping during the day can negatively affect your sleep. If you need to nap, try to keep it under 30 minutes and avoid napping late in the day.

7. Upgrade your Sleep Materials

You’ll spend about one-third of your entire life sleeping. That’s why it’s particularly important to use sleep materials — from your pillows to your blankets — that keep you comfortable and secure.

Your mattress is also a fundamentally important component in your sleep routine. In the same way that a great mattress delivers great sleep, a poor mattress can cause fatigue, irritability, and muscle ache. The right mattress should keep your limbs, neck, and back secure until it’s time to wake.

At Mattress Warehouse, it’s our goal to take the guesswork out of a good night’s sleep. That’s exactly why we created and patented our bedMATCH sleep diagnostic program: to pair sleepers of all sizes and sleeping preferences with mattress options proven to deliver restorative rest. Our program takes important measurements and considers important metrics like your height, weight, and body type, before delivering a list of mattress recommendations at multiple price points.

Visit the closest Mattress Warehouse, or take our five-minute online bedMATCH quiz, to connect with the sleep you know you deserve.
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