Maybe you’re working night shift (third shift) and struggle to deal with the opposite sleep schedule, or maybe just looking for an afternoon breather, either way, trying to get to sleep during the day presents unique problems that make it much more difficult than sleeping at night.
So how do you sleep during the day?
The best solution is to recreate the conditions with which you would sleep at night, which for most people means eliminating all sources of noise and light in their sleeping area. There are products such as blackout curtains and earplugs that can help in this regard.
If it’s just a nap, the best time to sleep is around 2.30pm when you experience the ‘mid-afternoon slump’ and if you are trying to sleep due to night shift work then it’s important to make sure you are doing everything you can to limit the risk of ‘Shift Work Sleep Disorder’.
Stick with me and I’ll be expanding on what I just said and giving all my best tips on daytime sleeping…
What makes sleeping during the day more difficult?
Humans being nocturnal creatures means that we are accustomed to sleeping when it is quiet and dark. So it’s clear that a central pillar of sleeping during the day should involve reducing all noise and light, both background/ambient sources and short bursts, as much as possible.
And in fact, it has been estimated that 30% of all problems with falling asleep come from noise or light.
The problems with daytime sleeping do not stop there however, an important factor to consider is our body’s circadian rhythm and how that cycles throughout the day.
The body prefers to be on a 24 hours schedule where the sleeping pattern is somewhat consistent, where it can regulate its bodily processes and hormone production. There’s no escaping from this, the circadian rhythm is hardwired into us biologically, in fact, you share it with practically all animals and many plants, fungi and bacteria!
For example, the body will produce the highest amount of the stress hormone cortisol just after waking up in the morning so that you are alive and alert in the early part of the day. That’s why most jobs that can allow it, get you to work straight after waking up and also one reason why work output tends to decrease throughout the day.
Your body uses external cues as a measure to guide its circadian rhythm, including light from the sun, darkness (absence of light from the sun), and temperature.
For example, when it is dark, your eyes send a signal to your hypothalamus that it needs to produce melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. So as you can see, sleeping during the day presents unique problems to be overcome to be done effectively.
Lastly, the world is warmer in the daytime. The sun is out and making your bedroom a much hotter place than it would be at the other time of day and this has implications for your sleep.
Your body uses temperature as a gauge for sleeping, and in fact, your core body temperature needs to be below a certain point to produce melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleepiness. As such, depending on the climate where you live this can be an additional factor to think about when sleeping in the day.
How to sleep during the day?
This first section is going to tackle the general issues of noise and light and then I’ll branch out into more specific advice depending on if it’s a nap you’re after or whether you’re dealing with shift work.
1. Eliminate light.
Your first port of call to making an environment that is conducive to good daytime sleep is to try to remove all sources of light. For most of us, this is going to be impossible due to the fiery ball of light in the sky that seems to get everywhere.
The best solution to this is to install blackout curtains. Get a set of these in your bedroom, and make sure they are well fitted, and you will not be able to tell whether it’s daytime or nighttime.
In my experience, the best sleep I have ever got was in a room with some of these bad boys and they help you sleep better at night too, in my experience. A cheaper and less effective but still workable solution is to use an eye mask or sleeping mask to cover the light coming into your eyes.
There are lots of cheap and useless versions of these so do your research before getting some, you can read the ones I recommend here if you so wish.
2. Eliminate noise.
The second task is to create conditions where you will not be interrupted with noise despite it being the middle of the day when the rest of the human race are awake and active.
Like the first point about light, your specific conditions are unique to you. Some of the most common challenges involve phone notifications, roadwork/construction or other human noise coming from outside, people in your house or family waking you up deliberately or inadvertently.
Some of these problems are more easily solved than others, but the one thing that everyone can do is to wear earplugs. Now if you’re dismissing ear plugs as rubbish little foamy things that don’t block any noise, please reconsider.
It’s 2018 and there are earplugs on the market which do a really great job of dampening and reducing noise to a degree that would astonish you. I wear a pair every single night – noise is terrible at waking me up – and they’ve helped me so much. You can read what I think of the ones I use in this article here.
3. Make your sleeping environment cool.
Isn’t it nice to be half-asleep then to flip over your pillow so you can rest your head on the cool side? Well, as I touched on above, your body likes to be cooler at night because it is how it regulates hormones and helps you fall asleep.
So what happens when you try to sleep in the day and it is much warmer than usual? You may experience sleeping problems. Your best solution is to use AC or a fan to make your sleeping environment a cool temperature that your body will fall asleep quickly in.
4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
These two drugs affect your sleep in different, though equally harmful, ways. Alcohol’s depressive effects can help you fall asleep at first but it interferes with your sleep stages and can stop you from getting the most refreshing sleep, it also can trigger waking up due to the ‘rebound effect’.
Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that most people know is good for keeping you alert and awake, but most people don’t seem to know how long it lasts in the system. A cup of coffee that you drink at 4pm will still have half of the caffeine running through your system at 10pm.
So for both of these, be very mindful about your consumption, particularly nearer your bedtime or if you sleep straight from coming home from work.
Tips for nappers
Don’t nap for more than 20 minutes.
When you sleep, your body goes through multiple stages where it performs different physiological functions. You’ve likely heard of REM (rapid eye motion) sleep where your eyes shift back and forth very quickly and is the stage where you have your most vivid dreams.
(If you haven’t, well, you’ve surely heard of the band by the same name!)
Well, it has been shown that while short naps can be beneficial, napping for too long can create problems with falling asleep later in the same day.
The reason for this is that when you nap for longer than 20 minutes, your brain will begin to emit brain waves called ‘Delta Waves’ which signify what scientists call ‘deep sleep’. While this sleep is still somewhat mysterious to us we do not that it is an especially refreshing period of sleep that causes us to be more well-rested and less tired.
On the other hand, if circumstances play out that mean you will not be getting much sleep later on, taking a nap is going to be much more effective if you can sleep for 90 minutes or 3 hours because you are getting lots of deep sleep which is very valuable if you are looking to be well-rested and ready to be awake for a long time after waking up.
Aim to sleep around 2.30pm (or equivalent.)
The stages of the day correspond with different hormonal outputs in your body. For instance, just after waking up your levels of the hormone cortisol are at their highest.
This is a kind of ‘stress’ hormone that means you are at your most awakened early on. You’ll notice that once you’ve shaken off your early morning sleep inertia, it can be quite difficult to try and sleep again even if you are tired!
The balance of these hormones change throughout the day and reach a trough around the middle of the day, usually around 2.30pm for most people, causing the colloquial ‘mid-afternoon slump’. For this reason, this is considered the ideal time to nap as you can take a quick period of sleep and then reset and be good again.
Incidentally, this is why many scientists believe that humans are naturally ‘biphasic’ sleepers who sleep twice a day!
Napping can have negative health effects.
While it can be very tempting to spread out on the sofa after work and drift away for a short while, it has been shown to have negative health consequences including an elevated risk for type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In fact, this study showed that napping for longer than an hour each day is associated with a 32 percent increase in all-cause mortality. Although, it is believed that the actual napping is not the issue, but the problems with getting good sleep at nighttime which causes drowsiness during the day and a desire to nap.
So, if you’re feeling that you have to nap every day, particularly for periods longer than an hour, look at your nighttime routine and see what you can improve.
Tips for night shift workers
If you are among the 20% of workers who are hypothesized to be in night shift or rotating shift jobs, then sleeping well is of paramount importance. The prevalence of people who do these in of jobs and follow these type of sleep patterns that have issues with their sleep is so high that it even has its own term: ‘Shift Work Sleep Disorder’.
Keep a schedule.
When you work on a shift or doing night work it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of living your life based on other people’s (normal) schedules.
Whether it’s the girls meeting for drinks or a football game you really wanna catch, it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll just catch up on the sleep later or tomorrow.
The problem is that when you do this, particularly on a regular basis, your body’s circadian rhythm is thrown off and it cannot function normally. So try your best to keep some kind of routine and your sleep and general mood will improve.
Make sure other respect your sleeping time.
If you were happily asleep at 4am and your husband or child came in and woke you up to ask you some inane question you’d probably be pretty annoyed. If it happened on a regular basis it would be infuriating, and lead to a significantly decreased sleep quality.
Unfortunately, this is the life of many shift workers who are putting up with behavior that is causing them to have bad sleep.
The answer? You need to put your foot down and demand that your hours of sleep are respected the same way everyone else’s are. That means no interruptions but also expecting other in your house to be mindful of the fact you are sleeping and keeping the noise down during those periods.
Aim to come off night shifts.
I don’t know your specific situation, but working night shift has been shown to be unhealthy. Here’s a study that linked rotating night shift work to several chronic diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Here’s another that links it to increased risk of peptic ulcer disease, coronary heart disease, insulin resistance and depression. It makes sense from an intuitive perspective, no-one would choose to live like an owl, awake during the night and sleeping by day, but unfortunately, there are jobs that need to be filled over the early morning hours.
If there is no option of coming off night shifts then it’s probably something worth speaking about with your physician.
General sleep hygiene tips
I believe I’ve covered all of the main problems that arise when trying to sleep in the day, but what if your problems are not because you are sleeping during the day buy come down to general sleep issues?
Never fear, my sleep-deprived friends as I’ve created just the article. Here’s the link, it’s about getting better quality sleep and is a list of 15 sleep hygiene tips. There is some overlap with this article as you’ll notice but there’s plenty in there to get stuck into if you’re still struggling to get good sleep.
As a taster, a couple of the tips that I find extremely useful on a personal level are as follows. Firstly, eating a lower carbohydrate diet and particularly cutting out carbs nearer to bedtime has really helped me be less energetic when it comes time to sleep.
And there’s research that’s beginning to show that low-carb diets are associated with better sleep quality. I also talk a little bit about how using meditation can help soothe a restless mind and turn a 3-hour process of listening to your inner monologue worry into a 5-minutes-and-now-you’re-fast-asleep kinda situation.