NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours


  • Go directly to bed when you arrive home. If you have not eaten much for several hours and will likely feel hungry when you are trying to sleep, eat a small meal (including a protein and a carbohydrate like cereal and milk) before going to bed. If your circadian rhythms have not adjusted to sleeping during the daytime, there is only a small window of time before your natural circadian alerting mechanism will kick in and try to keep you awake. The more sleep you get before 2 p.m., the better rested you will be. Do not use your early morning time to do chores or errands, because this is prime sleep time for night shift nurses.
  • Sleep as long as possible. Night shift workers usually get less sleep overall than day shift workers, and poorer-quality sleep, so you should spend as much time in bed as possible to prevent yourself from becoming chronically sleep deprived.
  • If it is possible to take a nap before returning to work, do so. This can increase your overall sleep time and may help you to stay alert during the night.
Be sure that your sleep environment is very dark (so dark you cannot see your hand in front of your eyes) or wear an eye mask while sleeping. Daylight will trigger waking, and you will sleep better and longer if you sleep in darkness.
  • Block all light from coming in the windows in the bedroom and bathroom and the path between the bedroom and bathroom – you can install blackout shades and/or drapes. Block light from coming in under the doorways. Use a dim red nightlight if you have to get up briefly during sleep. (See Module 6, Improving Sleep, for more information on setting up your bedroom and preparing yourself for sleep). Block noises with ear plugs or a machine that creates white noise. Prevent the phone from awakening you.
  • Gain cooperation from family and friends so they do not disturb you when sleeping.
Module: 9, Page 5 of 12
Page last reviewed: March 31, 2020