Most workers are on the job during the day, but about 23.7 million Americans are working evening, night, rotating and irregular shifts. Shift work can significantly impact daily life, disrupting family time, leisure activities, social events and sleep. If your routines are thrown off because you're heading to work at odd hours, try to ease the disruption by adjusting your sleep to fit a new work schedule.
Shift work is common in sectors that operate around-the-clock or for extended hours, such as health care, hospitality, manufacturing, industry, law enforcement and transportation. Workers are typically scheduled in two or three continuous shifts to ensure responsibilities are covered at all times.
Some employees have fixed shifts, while others take turns rotating through shifts over the course of several days or weeks. Shift work can also occur on weekends.
About 16% of the working population in the United States works a non-daytime schedule, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Whether you're making a one-time schedule change for a new job or routinely switching shifts, it's challenging to get adequate sleep. Our bodies are on a 24-hour cycle governed by our circadian rhythms. We're naturally inclined to be active during the day and sleeping at night, taking cues from factors, such as bright light and darkness.
Adjusting your sleep to fit a new work schedule is possible, but you must keep your body's natural inclinations in mind. For example:
Here are ways to help your body get used to a new routine when you're working against your circadian rhythms.
Once you know your work schedule is changing, plan your new sleep and wake times so you can achieve the recommended seven hours or more of sleep.
Make changes gradually in advance of the new shift. If you're moving to an evening or overnight schedule, start going to bed an hour or two later each night. Try to get as close as possible to your optimal bedtime by the time you change schedules, so it's less jarring to your system.
If you're changing from a night shift to a daytime one, try to stay awake after completing your last night shift. Go to bed in the early evening and set your alarm for your new wake-up time.
When adjusting your sleep to fit a new work schedule, think about ways to signal to your body that it's time to rest. Try some of these strategies:
No matter what time of day you're working, be sure to maintain your health and fitness. Keep in mind that exercise tends to make you more alert.
While it's tempting to return to normal behaviors on your days off, consistency is key to getting used to a new schedule. Wake up, eat meals and go to sleep at the same time. Going back to your old schedule for even a day confuses your internal clock and makes it harder to adapt.
While it's possible to change your sleep routine, it's not always easy. Here are some difficulties you may experience.
Daytime sleep is not as restful as nighttime sleep. It's up to three hours shorter in duration and often of poorer quality because of light and noise. Workers on the night shift sleep the worst, particularly those on rotational shifts.
A change in sleep routine can also impact other parts of your life.
Many workers have no option but to work rotating or night shifts if asked by their employer. Try some of the tips outlined in this article to improve your sleep so you can be as well-rested as possible.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.