CHESTGuidelines & Topic CollectionsShift Work Sleep Disorder

Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Most shift workers try to return to their normal schedule on off days. Many fall asleep quickly but are unable to maintain sleep—leading to insufficient sleep. Night shift workers usually sleep 1 to 4 hours less per day than daytime workers.

It is easier to delay sleep than advance it. Clockwise shift rotations are more beneficial to workers than counterclockwise rotations.

Developed by the CHEST Sleep Medicine Network

Last updated November 22, 2023

Before your shift

  • Take a 30-minute nap.
  • Drink caffeine.
  • If possible, time naps to coincide with periods of increased sleepiness (ie, between 2 to 5 pm for a 7 pm shift).

During the shift

First half

  • Bright light – 10,000 lux at 1 to 2 feet from face for 2 hours
  • Low doses of caffeine

Second half

  • Avoid stimulants – prevent disrupting sleep initiation in the morning
  • Operational naps – short (<30 min)

After your shift

  • Wear UV-blocking goggles on the ride back home.
  • Block outside noise during daytime sleep: white noise, ear plugs.
  • Sleep in a darkened room (or wear an eye mask).
  • Do not go to bed hungry.
  • Turn off phone ringer, disconnect alarms, put up do not disturb signs.

Additional tips

  • Medications (eg, melatonin, modafinil) can help with sleep or wakefulness.
  • Contact a sleep specialist if you think you have shift work sleep disorder.
  • Remember: Do not drive sleepy!