Night work disrupts natural sleep cycles, increasing health risks. Learn how to support your workers with a sleep-supportive schedule and work environment.

Table of contents
  1. Sleep and the Impact of the Night Shift on Workers
  2. Benefits of Supporting Healthy Sleep Habits Among Night Shift Workers
  3. What’s the Best Sleep Schedule for Night Shift Workers?
  4. Tips for Creating a Sleep-Supportive Work Environment
  5. Educate Employees and Provide Resources
  6. The Bottom Line: Investing in Sleep Is Investing in Your Workforce

Your night shift crew is essential to your operations. However, night shift work poses unique challenges for workers, especially in managing a proper sleep schedule. Poor-quality sleep can lead to health issues and decreased productivity.

In this guide, we show you how optimal schedules and sleep-supportive environments can boost employee well-being and enhance operational efficiency.

Key Takeaways

  • Working the night shift disrupts natural sleep cycles, increasing health risks. Establishing the best sleep schedule for night shift workers can reduce long-term health risks and improve alertness.
  • While there’s no single “best” sleep schedule for shift workers, the most effective sleep schedules allow for 7-9 hours of sleep and meet individual workers’ needs. Schedule types include the standard night schedule, divided sleep schedule, and nap-enhanced schedule.
  • Offering workshops on sleep hygiene and providing healthy meals can improve overall wellness and enhance job performance.

Sleep and the Impact of the Night Shift on Workers

Night shift work disrupts your team’s natural circadian rhythms—internal clocks that regulate sleep-wake patterns and hormone release. Night shifts oppose natural sleep times, causing significant misalignment in your employees’ biological clocks.

In darkness, the body produces the hormone melatonin, which is essential for restorative sleep. The night shifts disrupt this, leading to reduced melatonin levels—making it harder for employees to sleep during the day.

This disruption can lead to:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
  • Impaired concentration and decision-making abilities.
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries on the job.

Further strain on senses like vision and hearing include: 

  • Eye strain and long-term vision problems caused by working in low-light conditions or staring at bright screens during the night.
  • Increased risk of hearing loss caused by bad sleep quality.

The side effects of circadian misalignment don’t stop there. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to severe health concerns, including:

  • Obesity and metabolic disorders like diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.
  • Weakened immune system and higher susceptibility to illness.
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Read our guide on helping night shift workers stay healthy.

Benefits of Supporting Healthy Sleep Habits Among Night Shift Workers

Supporting healthy sleep habits among team members who work nights can brings significant benefits for both employees and the company, including:

  • Improved productivity and performance: Well-rested employees are more alert, focused, and able to make sound decisions—increasing efficiency and output. 
  • Fewer accidents: Adequate sleep reduces the likelihood of workplace accidents caused by fatigue, ensuring a safer work environment and decreasing costs related to workplace injuries.
  • Lower absenteeism and healthcare costs: Chronic sleep deprivation takes a toll on physical and mental health. Promoting better sleep can decrease sick days and lower overall healthcare costs for your organization.
  • Boosted morale and retention: Feeling valued and supported goes a long way. Employees who see their employer actively investing in their well-being are more likely to feel satisfied and remain loyal to the company.

What’s the Best Sleep Schedule for Night Shift Workers?

There’s no one-size-fits-all “best” schedule for night shift workers since individual preferences and needs vary—as do the timings and lengths of night shifts. But the best sleep schedules will allow for 7-9 hours of sleep, which is what sleep experts recommend. 

This recommendation is backed by tons of research. For example, some studies link sleep duration with improved mood and cognitive function.

But the best sleep schedules won’t just account for sleep duration. Here are some other factors they might account for:  

  • Continuous sleep. This is generally thought to lead to better sleep quality than fragmented sleep because it enables the body to complete several cycles of REM and deep sleep, which is necessary for health and well-being. 
  • Sleep timing. Many night shift workers wonder if it’s better to sleep right after or right before their shifts. Some sources suggest sleeping right after the night shift, while others suggest sleeping right before. The best choice depends on the worker and their needs. 
  • Consistency. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests that night shift workers adopt a few hours each day where they consistently sleep so their bodies always have “some hours of sleep that are the same every 24-hour period.” This can prevent jet-lag-like feelings. 

Types of sleep schedules for night shift workers

Below, we discuss some good sleep schedules for a typical 11:00 pm-7:00 am night shift. Each schedule will appeal to different workers based on their preferences and needs. 

If your workers are on different sleep schedules, you’ll need to adapt the schedules below to reflect this. For example: 

  • If your workers are on a 12:00 am-8:00 pm night shift, you can push each schedule forward 1 hour.
  • If your workers are on rotating shifts—where they rotate between night and day shifts—turn the sleep schedule into a rotating sleep schedule. 
  • If your workers work longer or shorter shifts, ensure they still strive to get 7-9 hours of sleep. For example, workers on 12-hour shifts should still aim for around 8 hours of sleep—even though this means they’ll get less personal awake time.

1. Standard night shift sleep schedule

Sleep time: 8:00 am-4:00 pm

This schedule allows for a continuous, uninterrupted sleep session closely after the night shift. It also gives workers a short period of time to wind down and commute home. 

Pros: 

  • Mimics a regular 8-hour continuous sleep pattern.
  • Reduces exposure to daylight, which can minimize the disruptive effects of sunlight on melatonin production. 

Cons:

  • Daylight disturbances and social obligations during typical waking hours can make this schedule difficult to maintain.
  • Some workers might struggle to fall asleep right after work.

One night shift worker said, “I tend to prefer sleeping straight after the shift because being exposed to the sun and then trying to go to sleep shortens my sleep cycle and I will keep waking up more often.”

2. Divided sleep schedule

Sleep times: 8:00 am-12:00 pm and 3:00 pm-7:00 pm 

This schedule splits sleep into 2 parts, providing flexibility for those who have midday commitments or struggle to sleep for long periods of time throughout the day.

Pros

  • Allows flexibility for daytime activities and errands
  • Can be easier to manage in noisy environments.

Cons

  • Might not provide the same quality of rest as continuous sleep. 
  • Can lead to feelings of grogginess.

3. Late starter sleep schedule

Sleep time: 10:00 am-6:00 pm

This schedule is suitable for workers who need or prefer to unwind for a couple of hours after their shift ends before sleeping.

Pros

  • Allows for downtime after the shift before sleeping. 
  • Mimics a regular 8-hour continuous sleep pattern.

Cons

  • Exposure to more daylight can disrupt melatonin production, potentially affecting sleep quality.
  • Workers lose out on evening social interactions. 

One shift worker wrote, “I work 11pm-7am 5 days a week. I prefer to come home, take a few hours to get things done and chill, then sleep 12pm-8:30pm(ish, sometimes a little earlier or later). That gives me enough time to wake up, make myself some food, shower, and commute…It works for me because I find it easier to sleep in the late afternoon than in the early morning.”

4. Early riser sleep schedule

Sleep time: 7:00 am-3:00 pm

This schedule is ideal for those who want to participate in late afternoon or evening family activities or have other commitments.

Pros

  • Frees up late afternoon and evening for personal and social activities.
  • Reduces exposure to sunlight. 

Cons

  • Employees must live very close to their worksites or have access to sleeping facilities at their worksites to ensure they can sleep right after their shifts. 
  • Workers might struggle to fall asleep right after a shift.

Sergey Taver, Marketing Manager at Precision Watches, told us that his company benefits from the early riser sleep schedule:

We are deeply committed to the health of our night shift workers. We encourage our staff to follow a “reverse day” schedule, sleeping for 7-8 hours immediately after their shift ends. To facilitate this, we provide a quiet room equipped with sleeping pods for employees who may have difficulty traveling home right away. 

5. Nap-enhanced sleep schedule

Sleep times: 8:00 am-2:00 pm (and 9:00 pm-11:00 pm nap)

This schedule includes a nap just before starting the night shift, supplementing the main sleep period.

Pros

  • Provides a boost of alertness right before the shift.
  • Can serve as an adaptation of other schedules (e.g., if a worker attempted a continuous sleep schedule but slept for just 6 hours, they can use this schedule instead).  

Cons

  • Requires strict discipline to manage effectively.
  • Can sometimes lead to grogginess if a worker must force themselves to wake up when they’re in a deep sleep phase to begin their shift.

One night shift worker said, “I sleep 4~5 hours after work, and then a 2-3 hour nap before work. … Inbetween I do chores like laundry or whatever needs to be done. I shower before I leave for work and very rarely feel tired.”

Tips for Creating a Sleep-Supportive Work Environment

The work environment is crucial in supporting healthy sleep habits for your night shift employees. Here’s how you can create a sleep-supportive climate and help your employees catch those precious Zzzs:

Light management

  • Use bright lights at the start of shifts to enhance alertness.
  • Dim lights as the shift ends to prepare for sleep and reduce circadian disruption.
  • Implement amber filters on screens to decrease blue light exposure, as this exposure can disrupt circadian rhythms.

Temperature control

  • Use adjustable thermostats in rest areas to create a cool environment conducive to sleep.
  • Maintain warmer temperatures—around 70-74°F (21-23°C)—in work areas to help workers stay alert.

Noise reduction

  • Install sound-proofing in break rooms to enhance sleep quality.
  • Provide noise-canceling headphones or earplugs for quiet rest periods.

Ergonomic bedding and furniture

  • If your workplace permits napping, equip rest areas with high-quality mattresses and pillows that support proper posture.
  • Use reclining chairs to allow comfortable resting in workplaces where full beds aren’t feasible.

Visual comfort and privacy

  • Decorate rest areas with calming colors and minimalistic designs to aid in relaxation and sleep readiness.
  • Enhance rest areas with privacy curtains or screens for seclusion and security—especially in dedicated napping areas.

📚 This Might Interest You:

Strategic napping before and during work can help workers stay awake during work time. Read more about napping strategies for night shift workers in NIOSH’s Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours.

Educate Employees and Provide Resources

Helping your night shift workers get good sleep doesn’t end with providing them with sleep schedules and creating sleep-supportive environments. Here are some other approaches you might consider. 

😴 Example Sleep Hygiene Tips To Share With Workers:

  • Establishing a relaxing pre-bed routine (e.g., taking a warm bath, reading, light stretching).
  • Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime.
  • Creating a cool, dark, and quiet sleep environment (e.g., with blackout curtains and white noise machines).
  • Limiting exposure to blue light from screens before bed.
  • Avoiding intense exercise too close to bedtime.

Health and wellness programs

Health and wellness programs can support night shift workers by addressing both physical and mental health challenges associated with irregular working hours and poor sleep. Here are some programs you might implement:

  • Offer early onsite health checks to identify issues like high blood pressure or diabetes. Provide vision and hearing tests, considering the strain of night work on these senses.
  • Establish access to 24/7 mental health hotlines or online counseling services.
  • Organize regular workshops on stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness and yoga.
  • Provide workers with subscriptions to apps like ShutEye or Sleep Tracker that facilitate sleep meditation and relaxation techniques.
  • Create peer support groups where workers can share experiences and coping strategies.

Rashid Khan, the CEO and founder of Dubai’s Best, discussed his strategies for supporting night shift workers with us. He said:

We allow our employees to communicate their health problems, particularly if they influence their job tasks. We nominate a wellness champion to act as the worker’s advocate and encourage people to express their problems rather than bottle them up. To protect our employees’ well-being, we do regular health checkups. They also find it beneficial to consult with an independent or external health specialist.

💡 Pro Tip:

If your night shift workers are struggling with fatigue, consider partnering with sleep centers accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) for specialized interventions. These facilities offer evidence-based solutions to improve sleep health and combat fatigue effectively. You can find a list of accredited centers on the AASM website.

Training courses 

You should also create courses on sleep health for your employees. These can educate and employer your night shift crew, covering topics like:

  • Circadian rhythms and the impact of shift work.
  • Health eating and hydration habits on their impacts on sleep quality.
  • Stress management and relaxation techniques.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Sleep medicines. 
  • Practical tips for optimizing sleep quality, including sleep hygiene tips.  

Be sure to consult with experts or use expert advice to ensure all information you provide employees is current and accurate. 

🧠 Did You Know? 

You can use the Connecteam training app to create custom training courses on sleep topics either from scratch or using pre-made templates. Workers can take these courses right from their mobile phones. 

The Bottom Line: Investing in Sleep Is Investing in Your Workforce

Well-rested night shift workers are more alert, safer, and productive.

While there’s no single “best” sleep schedule for night shift workers, the best schedules include 7-9 hours of sleep. Some offer one continuous sleep, while others use segmented sleep periods, including strategic napping.

You can support your night shift workers and their sleep schedules by optimizing work environments with appropriate lighting, temperature, and noise levels. 

Additionally, a training app like Connecteam can help you support your workers with information about healthy sleep schedules. You can also use Connecteam to store company knowledge, create optimal schedules for your workers, enable shift swapping and time off management, and so much more.

Try Connecteam free today.

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