Sleep Awareness Week: Working overnight

March 7, 2013 5:21:50 AM PST
Dr. James Wyatt, dir. of Rush University Medical Center's Sleep Disorders and Research Center, has some tips for people on the overnight shifts.

What advice do you have for overnight shift workers?

For shift workers, there are really 2 goals:
1) Get as long a sleep episode after returning home from work, something like 8am-2pm. Then try for a short nap prior to leaving for the night shift.
2) Focus on remaining awake during the night. Bright lights help maintain alertness, and caffeine at the beginning of the shift will help maintain alertness, while being mostly cleared by the time of sleep the next morning. A short (20 minute) in the middle of the shift can improve alertness as well, if allowed in your workplace.

Dos and Dont's for shift workers:
Do improve your sleeping conditions: Turn off the ringer on the phone, get good blackout shades in the bedroom, and make sure family members keep the house quiet while you are sleeping.
Don't drive when sleepy, skip opportunities to sleep, or abuse alcohol to try to sleep.

Are naps okay?
Prior to going to work, a 1-2 hour nap may be best.
During the night shift itself, a 20 minute nap is long enough to offer benefit, but short enough to avoid the worst of the "sleep hangover."

Is it ok to exercise before bed?
Exercise is always good, but avoid exercising within 2 hours of bedtime as it may disrupt your sleep.
Exercising in the 2-4 hour window prior to bedtime has been shown to improve sleep quality in some, but this has not been tested in shift workers.

How to ensure a good night's sleep:
Have adequate winding-down time prior to getting into bed, don't do alerting activities while in the bed (e.g., reading, TV, texting), and see your doctor if you routinely have trouble sleeping at night or staying awake during your day

Rush Medical College
1653 West Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL 60612-3833