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Tactics for Railroaders to Maximize Sleep

Railroaders have difficult schedules. "They work hard to try to balance family life and work. I admire them tremendously," said Charmane I. Eastman, PhD, professor of behavioral sciences and founder of the Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

She offers the following tactics that railroaders can use to maximize sleep:


  • If you work in the evening or at night, go to sleep as soon as possible after work. Shop and do chores later.
  • Sleep as long as you can—at least 4 hours. Aim for 7 to 8 hours, the amount most adults need to feel well-rested.
  • Sleep at the same time as often as possible on workdays and days off, and as much as possible at night.
  • Nap when you can.
  • Sleep in a dark room. Invest in light-blocking draperies, or wear a good eye mask. Or do both.
  • Soundproof your sleeping area.

Marie Dumont, PhD, co-director of the chronobiology laboratory, University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, offers additional advice:

  • Get as much sleep as you can every day. On days off, try to sleep an hour or two longer.
  • Nap before going to work, if you can. Allow enough time after you wake up to allow post-sleep grogginess, or sleep inertia, to wear off.


  • If you work in the evening and early morning hours, go to sleep as soon as possible after work. Use room-darkening shades, and wear an eye mask. Avoid exposure to sunlight before 9 or 10 AM.
  • Try to avoid coffee within 5 hours of your expected bedtime. If you work in the late evening or early morning hours, gradually move your cut off time for drinking coffee earlier in the evening. Don't drink coffee after 1 AM, then after midnight, then after 11 PM, for example. Adopting this habit should make it easier to fall asleep soon after you finish work.
  • A simple alerting tip on the job: splash cold water on your face or apply a wet towel. If you have a break in the middle of the night, and access to a shower, take a quick, cold shower to help boost alertness. When feeling drowsy at work, move around, stretch, and talk to co-workers.
  • Try to have your main meal at the same time on both workdays and days off to help stabilize your body's internal clock.
  • Because getting too little sleep and frequently changing your times for sleep pose risks to your health, adopt good health habits in other areas of your life: eat well, exercise, avoid alcohol, and don't smoke.