How to Sleep for a 3rd Shift Job

Sleeping when the sun is out takes some practice – here are some tips. 

So, you’ve got this fancy new job right: good benefits, great pay, cool and quirky people… but there’s a catch: it’s 3rd shift. Or maybe rotating shifts. Or requires 24-hour on-call shifts. 

Whatever the case, if you want that fancy new job, then your sleep schedule is gonna have to change big-time. And FAST. 

The good news is that a legion of shift workers, from nurses and paramedics to factory workers and taxi drivers, feel your pain. Prolonged difficulty sleeping as a result of nonstandard work schedules even has a name: “shift work disorder.” And if you want to avoid the insomnia, mood swings, irritation, slower-than-normal reaction times, and higher risk of accidents that come with that, it’s time to rethink how you get your sleep. Luckily, there are plenty of tips, tricks, and hacks out there to help you flip your sleep schedule. 

You’ve probably heard a lot about your circadian rhythm – the natural “clock” your body has. Using light and darkness as primary indicators, this rhythm tells your body when it needs to be awake and when to sleep. Working when your circadian rhythm thinks you should be sleeping can cause a disconnect between your body and its internal clock. 

How do you realign your natural rhythm to match your work schedule? Here are a few ideas: 

  • Routine, routine, routine: building routines takes time, but it’s the best way to get consistently good sleep, no matter the time. Relaxing sounds, darkness, a clean and calming environment, same times, same methods – all of these things will go a long way towards helping you sleep during the day. Repeating your chosen sleep schedule and method, “night” after “night,” will eventually help you develop a routine and help your rhythm adjust to your shift.
  • Listen to your body: this is important in SO many ways. Every person is different and going against your body’s inclinations can rob you of even more sleep. Some 3rd-shifters feel energized after their shift, taking care of business in the morning after they get off work, then falling asleep sometime in the afternoon. Some collapse after work, sleep the morning away, then wake up in the afternoon. If you tend towards one or the other, listen to that tendency and don’t try to fight it! There’s nothing “wrong” or inherently better about one approach or the other.
  • Control the light: remember your circadian rhythm? Since it primarily functions using light and darkness, regulating the amount of light in your sleeping space can help trick your rhythm and ease your body into sleep. Blackout curtains, eye covers, or sleeping in a place with no access to natural light can help here. And put your phone down! The light emitted by phones and electronics is infamous for keeping people awake.
  • Get cozy: this is related to “listen to your body,” but feeling comfortable is absolutely essential to being able to sleep, especially when you’re sleeping outside of your bedroom (like in an on-call room). So if you like sleeping in warmth, try having preferred blankets or weighted blankets, warm slippers, shawls, or even a stuffie on-hand, etc.
  • Streeeeeetch!: tiring out your body helps you sleep… we know, duh! But if your work isn’t physically strenuous, a little post-work activity (like stretching or yoga) can help you relax the tension in your body and prepare it for sleep. Just don’t exercise too vigorously – this can release endorphins, which will keep you awake.
  • Enlist outside help: sometimes, you need a little help jump-starting your sleepiness; that’s when you can bring in some sleep aids. This can involve taking a supplement like melatonin or herbs like valerian root (this herb’s sleep-inducing properties are commonly touted, but not scientifically verified). Always consult a doctor to find out what’s best for you.

Fighting your circadian rhythm can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Now go get that good 3rd shift job! 

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