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How to Get Better Sleep as a Bartender

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(illustration: Glenn Hilario)

For bartenders, working long shifts, often at night, in high-stress environments can wreak havoc on your sleep. As Megan Barnes, the beverage director and partner at Espita Mezcaleria in Washington, D.C, says, “After churning out a million drinks and dealing with guests all night, your body is buzzing and your mind is going miles a minute. It’s really hard to go to sleep at the end of the night.”

While it’s tempting to try and wind down with a drink or two or simply zone out with Netflix post-shift, Barnes and other pros have some advice: don’t. Instead, try these strategies for getting better and more restful sleep.

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1. Establish a Daily Routine

When you work well into the night, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of sleeping late and lounging before your shift. Barnes recommends adding structure to your days with consistent wake-up times and regular exercise. “I get up around 9:30 a.m. every day, eat a breakfast bar and then hit the gym,” she says.

Larisa Yanicak, the bar manager at O-Ku in Charlotte, N.C., also wakes up at the same time and works out daily. “Whether I go to bed at 11 p.m. or 2 a.m., I set my alarm for 8:30 a.m. each morning,” she says. “It forces my body into a routine and gives me good separation from my job.” Part of that routine is a workout, which “not only increases my productivity during the day but ensures I’m ready to go to sleep at a decent hour at night,” she says.

Marathon runner Nathan McCarley-O’Neill, the East Coast bar director for Make It Nice (Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad in New York City), agrees. “In order to turn off at night, I need to make sure I have structure and get exercise during the day,” he says.

Even if you’re not a regular gymgoer, bartender Jesse Peterson of San Diego’s Raised by Wolves recommends “finding a hobby outside of your job, even if that’s taking a walk or going for a hike. That has really helped me create balance to be able to sleep better at night and be happier at work.”

Or you can commute to work, like Sarah Rosner, the head bartender at Bourbon Steak at Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., who says the 10-minute bike ride to and from the bar is just enough to “clear her head” and help her wind down after a long night.

2. Leave Work at Work

Scott Stroemer, the head bartender at Pacific Standard Time in Chicago, recommends adding time for reflection and planning at the end of your shift to ensure that work doesn’t follow you home. “I know when I don’t sleep well it’s because I take all those things that went wrong at service home with me,” he says.

Even if it’s something as simple as jotting down your prep list for the next day or making sure the morning team knows you’re low on simple syrup, he suggests “closing with clear expectations for yourself and your team the next day” so work stress doesn’t disrupt your sleep.

3. Unplug Post-Shift

Rosner recommends unplugging post-shift by putting your phone away and replacing your Netflix habit with a good book or non-screen-oriented activity.

McCarley-O’Neill, who also tries to stop drinking caffeine after 3. p.m., does the same. “I shut off my phone at midnight, read a book and drink chamomile tea, which sends me right to sleep,” he says.

A fan of pre-bed podcasts, Patrick Schultz, the general manager at Minero in Atlanta, suggests “plugging your phone in across the room and utilizing a real alarm clock” to avoid screen time at night.

Barnes prefers audiobooks, “as there’s something about the sound of someone’s monotone voice that’s like listening to meditation and very soothing and relaxing.”

For Peterson, regular yoga and meditation have helped her “find peace and rest” more readily at night, while Yanicak suggests “a little stretching and yoga before bed to calm the muscles down.”

4. Step Away from the Booze

And while it’s tempting to grab a drink during or after your shift to wind down, Peterson and others suggest passing on the booze. “When you don’t drink behind the bar or after shift, you end the night with just as much positive energy when you go out as when you came in,” she says. “And you sleep better.”

As Yanicak says, “A good night’s sleep is so much more beneficial to your mind and body than a few shots of tequila, no matter how good that sounds at the end of the night.”

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