If you are one of the millions of Canadians that work in the evening or overnight on rotating shifts, there are things you can do to avoid becoming a real-life zombie.

Studies have shown that shift work can mess up sleep patterns, impacting your quality of life and even causing shift work sleep disorder. Basically, this means you can’t sleep when you need to, or you’re incredibly drowsy while at work.

How much sleep do guys need?

Men should aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.

Getting the proper amount of sleep is important because there are risks involved when you don’t. After a few nights of poor or insufficient sleep, you’re more likely to catch a cold from reduced immune function, become irritable and forgetful, or see a reduction in your sex drive.

Your ability to regulate may also be impacted, which can lead to unhealthy food choices and weight gain.

After several weeks of insufficient sleep, these problems accumulate, which can lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, falling asleep while driving, hair loss, and more.

Sleep tips for shift workers

Here’s how to fall asleep quicker and get some quality shuteye.

Keep your room dark, quiet, and screen-free

Humans need as much darkness as possible to fall asleep, which is not so simple when you work the night shift. Light, whether from the sun or a computer or phone screen, interferes with your sleep cycles and circadian rhythm.

Man in bed with phone

So, how do you fall asleep when it’s light outside? Ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible by drawing the shades or using an eye mask. Keep it a screen-free zone (if you’re not on-call) to create an optimal environment for sleep after an overnight shift.

Daylight hours also tend to be noisier. Earplugs and a white noise machine effectively block out the sounds of the day when you’re trying to sleep while the sun’s still out.

Plan your sleep schedule

Stick to a schedule if you can. If you’re a night shift worker, try to keep the same bedtime and wake-up time each day, even on your days off. Sleeping at night on your days off disrupts your sleep cycle and will make it harder to fall asleep when you go back to work.

If you’re a rotating shift worker, keeping a regular sleep schedule is challenging because it usually means it has to change every time your shift does. What you can do to prepare is gradually move your bedtime by a couple of hours a few days before a shift change. This helps to avoid sudden changes in your sleep routine.

Be mindful of when you drink coffee and alcohol

Caffeine is the most famous culprit for poor sleep. Studies recommend eliminating drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea, certain soft drinks) at least 6 hours before bedtime. Pay attention to your body, too–the older you get, the more sensitive you might become to caffeine.

If you’re feeling sluggish part way through your shift, think twice before making a Timmy’s run or heading to the lunchroom coffee pot. What you eat can give your brain and body the fuel it needs to power through a shift.

The other drink to avoid before bedtime is alcohol. Alcohol consumption can lead to snoring, shorter sleep, and poor sleep quality. If you feel like you need a nightcap after a long shift, a warm mug of herbal tea or doing some light stretches are more effective ways to take your mind off the stresses of your day and prepare you for rest.

Figure out a relaxing bedtime routine to fall asleep faster

Develop a bedtime routine to help you unwind after your shift and prepare your mind and body for sleep. Take an hour before bed to read a book or listen to quiet music for a little while. Learn how to relax using breathing techniques and muscle relaxation. Doing these things regularly right before bed will cue your body that it’s time to fall asleep.

Use break time for nap time

Naps are no substitutes for solid sleep, but they can help fill in the sleep gaps in an irregular schedule.

Man sleeping in a factory

A short nap boosts alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with regularly scheduled sleep.

Get some exercise

The link between quality sleep and regular exercise is strong. But if you are one of the 25% of Canadian workers who do shift work, you might find it hard to fit exercise into your schedule. The good news is that even small amounts of activity can positively impact your health and sleep.

If you’re a gym goer, exercise within 2 hours of your shift starting can give you an energy boost that lasts for hours. Find a 24/7 gym near your home or office. If possible, talk to a colleague about working out together. A gym buddy can motivate you, provide accountability, and strengthen personal relationships.

If you’re looking for some motivation to start exercising, check out these tips on how to start an exercise routine and stick with it.

Make time for family

Incorporating time with your loved ones at the end of your day might be just what you need to unwind and prepare yourself for restorative sleep. Find opportunities for intentional overlap in schedules. If your kids and spouse are waking up when you get home from work use the time to prepare breakfast together.

Make small changes one tip at a time

Developing new sleep habits isn’t an all-or-nothing game. If you look at this list and think, “How the heck am I supposed to make all these changes,” the easy answer is: you don’t have to! Simply starting with one can lead to better sleep over time. Tackle another change once you’ve successfully added the first one into your routine.

If you’re a shift worker, how do you prioritize sleep in your schedule? Let’s hear your tips for better sleep in the comments below, fellas!

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