Ask LH: How Can I Sleep Better With My Irregular Work Hours?

Hey Lifehacker, I work as a new graduate in an industry which requires me to have highly erratic and irregular shift work. Some nights I am required to stay up past midnight and then some mornings require me to have an early morning start. On those days I am unable to get to sleep earlier because of my irregular body clock. How can I make sure I get to sleep those nights I really need it? Thanks, Sleep Seeker

Office nap picture from Shutterstock

Dear Seeker,

Does your work provide you with a reasonable break between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next? Depending on the type of industry award you’re under, you could be legally entitled to as much as 12 hours off in-between shifts.

If your employer is stacking successive morning and night shifts together, they’re probably breaking your workplace rights — check the industry award that covers your occupation to see how much rest you’re entitled to. If you’re getting short-changed you can make a complaint to the Fair Work Ombusman.

Most workplaces also have “fitness for work” policies that includes getting an adequate amount of sleep. This is usually the employee’s responsibility, but if your sleeping patterns are directly affected by your job, you may be able to negotiate your roster to some degree.

Regardless of what the workplace rules are, it’s probably worth having a chat to your boss about it if you’re constantly feeling exhausted. One possible solution would be to request more night shifts — we suspect most of your co-workers would be more than happy to give some of these up. You can find plenty of advice on adjusting to a night shift lifestyle here.

Failing that, you should at least try to keep the amount of sleep you get as regular as possible. Don’t get six hours of sleep one night and eight hours the next, as this will only compound the problem.

Improving your diet and getting a decent amount of exercise can also improve your body clock. We’d also recommend planning a sleep schedule in advance as soon as you get your shift for each week. Adequate preparation can make a big difference.

There are oodles of sleeping tips on Lifehacker that can help in this department — you can peruse them all via our ‘Sleep’ tag. As always, if any readers have advice of their own, please let Seeker know in the comments section below.


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