When you get up for work at the hours most people are changing into pajamas, your sleep schedule can be tricky. Are you finding you can't sleep after a long night shift?
The human brain needs excellent sleep to function, and bouts of insomnia or interrupted snoozing can be as frustrating as they are damaging to your body the next day.
Your grandma’s old wisdom, like a glass of warm milk before bed, is no match for the graveyard shift woes. Thankfully, night workers have come up with some tried-and-true strategies for getting to sleep on time.
If you’re wondering how to sleep better after a night shift, here are some of our favorite tips for getting some shut-eye after a long day.
5 Ways to Get Better Sleep After a Night Shift
1. Control Light Exposure
Our bodies are creatures of habit. We sleep and wake in cycles called circadian rhythms, which release different hormones depending on the time of day.
When the sun rises, a chemical called cortisol inspires you to jump out of bed and get moving. Once the darkness of the evening sets in, melatonin makes you tired and ready to climb back under the covers.
If you’re drifting off to sleep while the daylight shines outside, it’s essential to keep your rest area as dark as possible. Hang blackout curtains on the windows to trick your brain into producing more dreamy melatonin. A sleep mask is another great option for shielding your eyes.
Similarly, you can adjust your circadian cycle by getting some light exposure during the day. Try to catch some rays during the beginning of your day, whether that’s by walking to work when the sun is out or using an artificial lamp to boost cortisol levels at home.
2. Plan Your Diet
You might be surprised by the effect that food has on your sleep quality. What you eat, and when you eat it, could make your body work hard to digest meals when you’d rather be sleeping.
While you may not be awake for the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner times, it’s helpful to follow a similar eating schedule during your waking hours. Help your body adjust by spacing out your meals over the workday and sticking to a consistent routine.
To avoid feeling drowsy during your shift, keep some light, energizing snacks on hand. Nuts, fruits, and veggies are great fuel for the long workday.
In turn, some meals will make you feel sluggish and heavy as your body works overtime to digest the ingredients. Avoid processed, spicy, or fried foods. Meal planning can be tricky for graveyard shift workers who have limited options for all-night food joints. Plan as much as you can by packing healthy foods and grocery shopping on your days off.
3. Mindful Stretching
Stretching has tons of health benefits. If you’re wondering how to sleep better after a night shift, you might want to try out this bedtime exercise. You can even stretch in your bed to get your body into full relaxation mode before you doze off.
After a long night on the clock, stretching is a great way to ease those sore muscles that could wake you up with cramps during your deepest sleep. Try a restful child’s pose to lengthen your spine and remove pressure from your lower back muscles.
Stretching involves paying close attention to your breathing, which helps take your mind off any stressful thoughts you might bring home from the workday. When you focus your mind on how your body feels, you’ll find it’s easier to drift off to sleep.
4. Limit Caffeine
Caffeine is the secret weapon of many night shift workers. Energy drinks, soda, coffee, tea, and even chocolate contain stimulant compounds that keep you going when you feel tired. However, this powerful substance could be the reason you struggle to fall asleep once you’re home in bed.
Everybody tolerates caffeine a little differently. For people on a traditional circadian schedule, experts recommend that most people stop having caffeinated food and drinks at least 4-6 hours before bedtime. You’ll need those hours to let the drug wear out of your system before you lay down to sleep.
Night shift workers should stick to a small amount of caffeine at the beginning of the day. One morning cup of coffee won’t affect your ability to doze off after work, but grabbing a second beverage in the middle or end of the shift could throw off your rhythm.
5. Wear Blue Light Glasses
Whether you work at a computer or carry a mobile phone, it’s easy to find yourself looking at screens all day long. Evidence shows that digital screens emit blue light, which can trick the brain into producing cortisol long after the sun goes down.
Try limiting screen activity before your bedtime. If you can’t resist falling asleep to your favorite TV show or social media binge, you might wonder how to sleep better after a night shift without missing out on late-night entertainment. BLUblox blue light lenses can help you do both.
Wearing these special lenses can filter out the blue rays that disrupt your body’s natural rhythm. Blue light glasses allow you to stare at digital screens for as long as you want while your body produces melatonin to help you fall asleep.
Blue light blockers are excellent for outside use, too. Wear them on your commute home to shield your eyes from the sun, which might otherwise trick your body into thinking it’s time to rise and shine. No matter what time of day your “evening hours” take place, you can snuggle into bed without any disruption to your sleep hormones.
As we discussed in the last blog “Why Does Blue Light After Dark Ruin Our Sleep And Health” the human species are diurnal (active during the day) as opposed to nocturnal (active at night).
Our physiology has evolved over our history to be governed by the sun when it is visible (active and alert) and when it is not (sleep and repair).
During the day light hours we become active through the effects of sunlight suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin and creating a state of alertness. As the sun sets and darkness ensues melatonin is allowed to be released which causes us to become sleepy and fall into a deep sleep.
Those of us who rise in the mornings, head off to work during the day and return home from work to fall asleep in natural darkness are somewhat adhering to our evolutionary circadian rhythms (body clock patterns/cycles).
That is, if they are embracing sunlight as the first thing their eyes see upon waking, they are working outside away from modern technology and going to sleep when it gets dark (or wearing blue light blocking glasses after dark to shield the melatonin suppressing blue light from artificial sources).
A lot of the literature available to those who want to biohack their environment and get better sleep is overwhelmingly slanted towards the 96.8% of the population who work during the day and sleep during the night.
Not much information is available to shift workers who work during the nights and sleep during the day. These people would include fire-fighters, construction workers, doctors and nurses, policemen, 24 hour call centre workers, sleep centre workers and the list goes on.
Working After Dark
There is nothing optimal about working during darkness for our health. We evolved to be active under the hours of light and inactive during darkness.
We need the sun through our eyes and skin daily in order to have optimally functioning circadian rhythms and healthy mitochondria.
However, people who work night shifts often do not have much choice and have to work these shifts to make a living and look after their families. Therefore, it is paramount they get the correct information about how to biohack their circadian environment. We will start the advice from the moment they wake to the time they go to sleep.
A typical night shift worker may start work at around 18:00, or just as its getting dark. They should wake up a couple of hours before they start work and head outside.
One of the first things they need to see upon waking is the sun, therefore they need to wake from their sleep and head outside and have their morning drink and sit, or stand, for about 20-30 minutes. This will allow for melatonin to be suppressed, making you feel awake and alert and ready to start their “day”.
Sunlight vs Artificial Light
Natural light from the sun come in a spectrum of colours, some are visible (the colours we see with our eyes) and others are invisible (ultra violet (UV) and infrared (IR).
Artificial light, on the other hand, does not have as broad a range of colours and in some cases even intensified across various light spectrums. No bueno for eye health or mitochondrial health.
Once the night shift worker heads to work they will be exposure to a plethora of artificial light. During ones waking hours we need to be exposed to light, ideally this would be the sun, but in most cases its artificial light.
The problem with artificial light sources is they are intensified across the blue and green spectrums, meaning that overexposure to these frequencies of artificial light can damage our eyes. Therefore, we need to wear light straw coloured blue blocker glasses whilst working in an artificially lit environment during the hours we are awake.
These types of glasses reduce the amount of blue light that passes through your eyes by between 10-50% meaning we still get the benefits of the light during the hours we are awake to keep us alert. But, they reduce the damaging effects of too much artificial blue light on our health.
Simulating Darkness In the Light
Once the night shift worker finishes their shift and heads home they need to biohack their environment to initiate quality sleep.
When they return home the sun is starting to rise but for the shift worker this is their sleep time.
Two hours before they plan to sleep they need to wear 100% blue light blocking glasses that have a red tint. These glasses have to block 100% of blue light, plus, the majority green light up to 550nm. This will allow for melatonin to be produced and for us to feel sleepy by simulating darkness. However, we cannot wear these glasses while sleeping, it’s simply not practical.
We need to simulate complete darkness in our sleeping environment. We can achieve this with a a sleep mask like the REMedy sleep mask or an oversized silk black eye mask that has not gaps and allows no light to pass through it.
Or, we can install black out blinds in our bedrooms. Either way the positive effects of blue blocker glasses will be undone should we not be sleeping in complete darkness.
Night shift workers need to ensure that their bedrooms are in complete darkness or their eyes covered by an eye mask prior to laying down to sleep. BLUblox Sleep+ lenses are the only tested lenses to block 100% of blue and green light from 400-550nm.
Struggling to fall asleep after a night shift is an issue for nightshift workers. However, the solutions mentioned above are a good way to help find a way to prevent that insomnia problem.
Unfortunately many night shift workers do not follow these simple protocols or have been misled through incorrect advice about how to help their circadian rhythms to align with their reversed sleep/wake cycles.
This is why we are living through an epidemic of sleep disorders in night shift workers. This has lead to night shift workers being at greater risk of anxiety, insomnia, depression, heart disease and obesity.
Follow the simple protocol above if you are a night shift worker and biohack your way to a better sleep and reduce your risk of all of the mismatch diseases mentioned above.