Not everyone can have a nice daily schedule. Emergency workers like doctors or firefighters need to be sharp even after long hours of work, day and night. This is anything but easy. I came close to this when experimenting with polyphasic sleep almost a year ago. That’s why lifestyle is especially important for those who have the least time to practice a healthy lifestyle. In this guest article, Laura Kutch shares some of her lessons learned.
Taking on the night shift can be an exhilarating experience, but it can also be quite exhausting. Whether you’re a medical professional, an entrepreneur, or staying late in the lab, working nights can present several health and wellness challenges, and you may often find yourself struggling to use your downtime to recover properly.
Maintaining strong physical and mental health is crucial to success and happiness in your career, and it’s important to prioritize what’s best for you when spending long nights at work. Follow these 14 tips to improve your experiences with night shifts.
- Develop a schedule and stick to it.
Time management is the most important skill to master when you start working at later hours. Once you find a general routine that aligns with your working lifestyle, it will be easier to schedule specific times for catching up on sleep, chores, and self-care. This is crucial to ensuring that you do not feel burned out at the end of each workday.
There are countless time management methods that are tried and true, including the Pomodoro Technique and the Important-Urgent Matrix. Strategies like these will not only help you design a solid schedule that is easy to follow, but they can also help you get used to those unusual later hours, especially after a sudden scheduling shift.
- Build your schedule around night shifts.
After you’ve curated your weekly schedule for your workdays, it’s beneficial to adjust your routine on your off days to help stick to it. Try to go to sleep at the same time each day so that you can adjust your body to waking up in time for a night shift, which is usually sometime in the early afternoon.
Sometimes this isn’t as convenient, especially if you have other responsibilities outside of work, such as a family or pets. In this case, you can place all of your night shifts together on your schedule and use the day after your last shift to catch up on sleep and adjust back to a normal time for the weekend.
- Synchronize with your household
If you share a household with others, whether that be your family or your roommates, having them on the same page can make a big difference in how you handle your night shifts. Share your full schedule with your housemates, and make them aware of when you’ll be around and awake, in case they would like to see you.
For those who find it difficult to see your loved ones on such wildly different schedules, try designating a time in everyone’s schedule that allows you all to have lunch, an afternoon of games, or some other gathering together. This will prevent you from feeling disconnected with the people you love while working night shifts.
Health and Wellness Tips
- Stay active.
Exercising is the best way to keep your heart and mind healthy during a period of long night shifts. Before your shift each day, practice your exercise regimen to help you wake up, clear your head, and start off the day (or night) in a good mood.
Any successful workout routine will combine strength training, cardio exercises, and flexibility stretches to help you stay at a healthy weight and keep your body running smoothly. If you’re short on time or don’t want to tire yourself out with a long workout before a shift, taking a short jog, followed by a few pushups and yoga stretches, will at least get your body moving for the day.
- Relaxation is key.
Any profession that requires you to work nights can be physically and mentally demanding, so it’s important to eliminate stress wherever you can in your everyday life. Maintaining your mental health will not only make it easier to get through your shift, but it will show tangible positive results in your work as well.
The best ways to take care of yourself mentally is to maintain your daily schedule and delegate times throughout the day for focusing on self-care. Doing something each day that you enjoy and relaxes you, such as yoga or writing, will help keep a smile on your face and good thoughts running through your mind for a successful night at work.
- Start off your day in a positive state of mind.
The best time to practice wellness is at the start of your day, whether that be in the morning or in the evening. Upon waking up, the first thing you should do is something that will keep your mind at ease and prepare you for a long night shift, such as journaling or having a healthy breakfast.
It can also be helpful to talk to somebody you trust that can help you enter the right mindset for a night on the job. Even professionals can help you stay in a good psychological state, and seeking out help is always a valid solution when it gets mentally and emotionally hard to keep with the longer night shifts.
- Sleep always comes first.
There’s no way to stay fully alert and healthy during a working night without a healthy sleep schedule. Medical experts say that seven to eight solid hours of sleep (at minimum) will ensure a productive workday and a clear head.
Since you will likely be sleeping throughout the day, avoid the urges to skip out on sleep before a shift to spend time with a friend or online. Losing sleep can cause major health issues and impact your ability to do your job properly. This can be very dangerous for those who work in healthcare and other occupations that require a lot of focus.
- Take naps when you can.
One of the most common strategies for getting through night shifts is to set aside time during your shift for a scheduled nap. Napping for about half an hour gives your brain a chance to refresh and can help you stay alert when you didn’t get much sleep the night before.
Many workplaces that have night workers have programs and policies that offer protocol for napping on breaks, often with rooms specifically designated as peaceful sleeping areas. those that work somewhere that doesn’t have these options should take the initiative to implement them, as they can significantly benefit the workers and their clients or patients.
- Curate a sleep-friendly environment.
When sleeping throughout the day, it’s important to curate a sleep environment that allows for as few distractions and interruptions as possible. Whether you sleep in your bedroom or another room that is quiet and dark, you should be able to get the proper amount of sleep, uninterrupted. Exposure to daylight can prevent quality sleep patterns and cause severe insomnia.
You may need to get creative to avoid these disruptions, especially if your bedroom gets very bright during the day. Invest in items that will help block out the sunlight, such as eye masks and blackout drapes, and eliminate any noise that could make it harder to fall asleep.
- Put your phone away before getting in bed
After a long night on the job, it can be tempting to wind down before bed by scrolling through social media or watching videos. However, it’s easy to lose track of time while doing this, which can result in losing valuable sleeping hours.
When you get home from work and are preparing for bed, place your phone somewhere that is inconvenient to reach for while in bed about an hour before you plan to fall asleep. That way, you won’t be tempted to answer texts and calls until the afternoon, while still getting a good amount of sleep for your next shift.
- Save time by meal prepping.
Even if you find yourself short on time between night shifts, skipping meals can be very bad for your health. To ensure you always have something substantial to get you through the night, try meal prepping at the beginning of the week. Always having something to eat available will save you time and keep your mind steady to ensure that you don’t make any crucial errors while on the job.
Prepare lunches and dinners that are rich in protein and leafy greens that can be easily stored and reheated. Store your meals in smaller portions and eat throughout the day to maintain steady energy levels throughout your shift.
- Have healthy snacks at the ready.
In addition to meal prepping, you should also have healthy snacks on hand to provide smaller boosts of energy throughout your worknight. Those who work at night and indoors tend to suffer from strong vitamin D3 deficiencies due to the lack of time spent in the daylight, so stock up on supplements and vitamin-D-rich snacks like yogurt to avoid this issue.
For something quick that won’t upset your stomach or cause an energy crash, carry something easy and accessible like trail mix or protein bars during your shift. Sliced fruits and vegetables also make great snacks for a busy night on the job.
- Drink lots of water throughout the day.
Much like sleep, staying hydrated is a crucial part of any successful night shift routine. Unlike sugary drinks or coffee, drinking substantial amounts of water will keep you from crashing throughout your shift and help prevent any mistakes while working.
According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, medical experts say that the average woman should drink about 11 cups of water and the average man should drink about 16 cups of water daily in order to stay well-hydrated. This will ensure a healthy body temperature and help to avoid infections and illnesses, all of which have a substantial impact on working abilities.
- Be mindful of your caffeine intake.
While coffee and other sources of caffeine can provide a helpful energy boost during a night shift, it’s important to monitor your caffeine intake and keep it in moderation. A cup of coffee here or there can actually be beneficial for a long period with little sleep, but any more than that can often lead to problems for a worknight.
Too much caffeine can make you jittery and heighten anxiety levels, especially when coming from sugary energy drinks. There are even long-term health risks associated with unregulated caffeine levels, including heart issues and impacted sleep patterns.
Making such bold lifestyle changes can be daunting at first, but taking the time to adjust your routine in favor of your mental and physical wellbeing will make all the difference as you settle into a new night schedule at your job. Always stay on top of your nutrition, sleep, and self-care, and you’ll feel fulfilled on the night shift in no time.
Laura Kutch is a content creator who strives to create compelling and educational stories. Her passion for creative writing, digital marketing and journalism has allowed her to cover diverse topics across multiple industries. Married to a nurse, she feels fortunate to blend the personal with the professional when working with organizations like The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences.