If you purchase via links on our site, we may receive commissions. However, our experts carefully research and evaluate each product or service, ensuring it meets our quality standards.

How Night Shifts Affect Your Body: What You Can Do to Stay Healthy

Working overnight may lead to sleep issues and feelings of isolation. Even though night shift work goes against your natural body rhythm, there are ways to help your body adjust to the new schedule. In this article, you'll find a sample schedule for a night shift worker, along with tips on how to get quality sleep while working during the night.

What is night shift work, and how common is it?

Night shift work involves working during night hours when most people are sleeping. Depending on the definition, this may include shifts between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. or at various other nighttime hours.

In the past, people relied on night shift workers to keep important services like hospitals running. But now, it's getting more popular as there are more businesses open around the clock.

According to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16% of employers worked outside of the traditional daytime schedule between 2017 and 2018. Six percent worked in the evenings, 4% worked during the night, and the remaining had rotating shifts.

Best sleep schedule for night shift workers

Night shift workers need to stay awake when their bodies tell them to sleep and sleep when their bodies tell them to stay awake. This mismatch may lead to sleep challenges such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, insufficient sleep, and excessive sleepiness at unwanted times.

This doesn’t mean you need to quit your job. You’ll just have to adjust your schedule to maintain a healthy balance between work and rest.

There isn’t one ideal sleep schedule for all night shift workers. The best sleep schedule depends on various things, such as how often you work the night shift, how demanding the job is, and family and social obligations. So, specialists recommend each person create their own sleep schedule.

Having said that, a typical workday for a night shift worker might look like this:

10 p.m.DinnerHave dinner as usual before your shift. Include whole grains and starchy vegetables to curb hunger and cravings.
11 p.m.Start workingExpose yourself to bright light to stay alert.
2 a.m.Last cup of coffeeAvoid caffeinated drinks after this time, as it can disrupt your sleep.
6–7 a.m.Go homeAvoid exposure to bright light. You may try blue light blockers as well.
8 a.m.Sleep timeMake sure your sleep environment is quiet and cozy.
3–4 p.m.Start your dayWake up, have breakfast, and stick to your usual routine. Incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine to help regulate your sleep.

Your work schedule might be different, but that's alright. You can adjust the schedule to fit your needs.

How to change your sleep schedule for the night shift

Changing your sleep schedule from day to night is something you’ll have to do when working the night shift. It can be tough because it feels like you're going against nature, your body's natural rhythms. But with some planning, anything is possible. Here are some tips on how to make this transition smoother:

Keep a consistent sleep schedule

Establishing consistent bedtime and wake-up times helps your body recognize when it's time to sleep and wake up.

It's simple: choose a bedtime that gives you 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Then, follow your usual routine — eating, exercising, going to work — and make sure to go to bed at the same time each night. Over time, your body will become used to working during unconventional hours.

Follow this schedule even on your days off. If you can’t, stay awake until around 3–4 a.m. and then sleep until noon or 1 p.m. This way, you always have a block of sleep that stays the same, like 8 a.m. to noon, whether you're working or not.

Expose yourself to bright light when you get up

Circadian rhythms are natural changes that happen about every 24 hours and control important body functions, like sleep. For humans, the main factors influencing these rhythms are light and darkness.

Specialized cells in your eyes detect light and send signals to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in your brain, which helps regulate the release of hormones like melatonin.

Exposure to bright light suppresses the release of melatonin, making you feel more alert during your shift and delaying the time when you feel sleepy.

Minimize light exposure before going to sleep

If exposure to light keeps you awake while you work, when you leave work, you should do exactly the opposite. You can wear sunglasses when you return from work and then stay in a dark environment.

This will help reduce the alertness-promoting effect of sunlight and make it easier to fall asleep.

Try melatonin supplements

Melatonin is a hormone that your body produces when it’s dark and helps regulate your sleep-wake cycles.

If you work night shifts, taking melatonin supplements before going to sleep may help you fall asleep more easily during the day.

While melatonin supplements are generally considered safe, they may not work for everyone and could cause side effects. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before start taking them.

Depending on the case, your doctor may also prescribe medication to help you sleep or stay awake.

Make some lifestyle changes

When adjusting to a new work routine, you’ll need plenty of support from your family. During the day, people tend to talk loudly, turn up the TV, or use noisy devices. Kindly ask them to minimize noise while you’re trying to sleep.

Let your family and friends know about your schedule, and try to rearrange social plans and household tasks when you can.

It might sound simple, but sticking to healthy sleep habits can really affect the quality of your sleep. So, make sure to eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, create a comfortable sleep environment, and avoid screen time before bed.

Tips for sleeping during the day

Sleep while they work — it’s easier said than done, right? But there are a few tricks that can help you sleep during the day. Take a look:

Tips for sleeping during the day

How long does it take to adjust?

How well people adjust to night shift work varies from person to person. Some research suggests that it takes about two weeks of consecutive night shifts to adapt your body’s rhythms to the new work schedule.

For some people, this adaptation may never happen. Even after years of working the night shift, they still have trouble with sleep.

Night shift work messes with your body's natural sleep patterns, which can negatively impact mental and physical health. Also, working the night shift can feel lonely as you’re working when everyone else is sleeping. Balancing work and personal life can be really hard. Hopefully, with a few tweaks to your routine and lots of support from loved ones, you can minimize many of the drawbacks.


Key takeaways:

Leave a reply

Your email will not be published. All fields are required.