Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Shift Work - Treatment

Bright light therapy

This involves exposure to a special artificial light at certain times to help reinforce your body clock and ease the transition to a new time zone. Schedule short sessions when you first wake up and midday. You can use a special light box, desk lamp, visor or dawn simulator for light therapy.

Sleep medications

Your doctor can prescribe for you a sleeping pill to help you get rest at the proper times. Sleeping pills may help you sleep better in the short term. Over a length of time you may develop a dependency or a tolerance. Many people also experience side effects when on sleep medications.


Melatonin supplements may help you adapt better to a shift work schedule. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the brain’s pineal gland and considered a signal for when you body is supposed to sleep. Research suggests that a dose of 0.5 mg is just as effective as higher doses. Take melatonin several hours before you plan to sleep.

You can also follow these sleep tips:

  • If you work rotating shifts, ask your manager to schedule a clockwise rotation. This means that your new shift will have a start time that is later than your last shift. It is easier to adapt to this type of rotation because it is easier to stay up late than to go to bed early.
  • If possible, take a nap during a break in your shift or before reporting for a night shift. Even a nap of just 20 to 30 minutes can improve your alertness on the job.
  • Arrange for someone to pick you up after a night shift, or take a bus or cab home. Drowsy driving can put your life and the lives of other drivers at risk.
  • Try to keep the same schedule on work days and days off. Keeping a routine helps your body know when to be alert and when to sleep.
  • Plan ahead for a major change in a shift-work schedule. Begin to alter your sleep time a few days in advance. This will make it easier for your body to adjust. See the example below:
 Sleep Time
 Evening Shift (5 p.m. — 1 a.m.)  3 a.m. — 11 a.m.
 Night 1 of Transition
 5 a.m. — 1 p.m.
 Night 2 of Transition  7 a.m. — 3 p.m.
 Night 3 of Transition  8 a.m. — 4 p.m.
 Night Shift (11 p.m. — 7 a.m.)  9 a.m. — 5 p.m.
  • Use moderate amounts of caffeine to help you stay alert on the job. Stop drinking coffee in the later portions of your shift so that it does not disrupt your sleep when it is time to go to bed.
  • Avoid exposure to sunlight if you need to sleep during the day. Wear sunglasses if you must go outside.
  • Make sure others in your home are aware of your work schedule. They should keep the home quiet when they know that you need to sleep.
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