The Best Sleep Schedule For People Who Work Nights

04/15/2015 08:47 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2016


It's hard enough to get sufficient rest when you're holding down a 9-to-5 job. It's even trickier when you're one of the more than 15 million Americans who clock in as the rest of us zonk out. But research suggests that with a little planning, night-shift workers can get plenty of shut-eye. "Within about a week, permanent night-shift workers can reset their body clock so they feel sleepy at the right time of their day," says Charmane Eastman, PhD, a professor and researcher at the Biological Rhythms Research Lab at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center, who has been studying how to help shift workers for almost three decades. Eastman has shared a sample workday plan below. Adapt it to fit your schedule and body's response.

By Ashley Williams

  • Work
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    11 P.M.: Begin Work

    Midnight–5 A.M.: Simulate daytime with bright light. Invest in a light-therapy box. It will help reset your body clock and keep you alert.

    3 A.M.: If you're a coffee drinker, have your last cup. Caffeine has an average half-life of four to six hours, so it could affect your ability to sleep later.

    3–4 A.M.: Eat dinner. Progressively push your meals later each night, until you get to the times suggested for dinner, breakfast and lunch.

    7 A.M.: Head home. Here's when you want to avoid bright light at all costs. Put on dark sunglasses with lenses designed to reduce blue light (commonly known as blue blockers).
  • Rest
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    8 A.M.: Get in bed ASAP. If you expose yourself to too much light, you'll disrupt the circadian clock you're trying to reset and your body temperature will rise too soon after you fall asleep; If that happens, you'll wake up before getting enough rest.

    8 A.M.–3 P.M.: Sleep. Darken your bedroom with blackout curtains and turn on a white-noise generator to drown out ambient sounds.
  • Start Your Day
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    3–4 P.M.: Wake up and eat breakfast. Also make sure to get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure to trick your circadian clock into thinking it's morning.

    4:30–7 P.M.: Go about your daily activities. Spend time with family, do household chores, exercise, etc.

    9 P.M.: Eat lunch.

    *On days off, sleep from 3 a.m. to noon; shift meals earlier.

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