Shift work, the Sleepyhead guide

How to: shift work


Shift work almost always affects how well we sleep, but it can be the way we try to cope that actually perpetuates the sleep problems. Try out the Sleepyhead guide to get the most out of your sleep when doing shift work.




  • If you know that you have shift work coming up, gradually change your sleep/wake time 3 days prior in line with your new shift pattern if possible.


  • Have a cup of caffeine before your shift, followed by bright light exposure – try to get outdoors before it gets dark (or get a light box- for example ‘Brazil’ by Lumie)


  • Eat a good meal – doesn’t matter what meal it is but try to stick to high protein, low carb, low sugar and unprocessed foods.


  • Do some invigorating exercise



  • Make sure you move around every hour or so for gentle exercise and to avoid sleepiness feelings (much more prominent when we are sitting down)


  • Napping can be useful but only when really needed and for less than 20 minutes at a time. Try to keep napping to first half of shift and try not to nap on normal 9-5 days.


  • Use caffeine in first half of shift and you can coincide with naps – cup of coffee then short nap equals maximum alertness


  • Eat little and often throughout the night. Avoid sugar and carbs and increase protein. Take food with you.



  • Avoid long commutes/activities after work and try to use public transport home. Stay safe.


  • Use sunglasses after work to reduce light exposure


  • Have a light carb snack such as a banana or crackers before bed


  • Have a wind down to bed routine – nothing you ‘need’ to do but things you ‘want’ to do such as relaxation audio, a light book, bath, drawing…


  • Don’t go to bed unless you’re sleepy tired. Just rest and relax and remember quality is better than quantity – fretting over no sleep is pointless, go and do something enjoyable and relaxing until you can!


  • Do not use stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol


  • Use a very dark, very quiet, cool room for sleep. Avoid interruptions


  • Do not use your phone/laptop! Get an old fashioned alarm clock. If you do use your tech get an app to reduce blue light (e.g. F.LUX)


  • Get up at the same time everyday as much as possible – regardless of how well you slept.


Remember: Results won’t be instant when you’re trying to change habits, stay consistent.

These techniques are not going to fix a sleep disorder, but they will help the shift worker get more from their sleep time. Contact Sleepyhead if you would like help for insomnia or related sleep problems.

For more info check out @sleepyclinic and the Sleepyhead Blog.