Burning The Midnight Oil: Surviving The Night Shift

Although Halloween was a couple of weeks ago, for anyone that works a night-shift – sometimes it can feel like you are living in a zombie apocalypse – the streets are empty and you’re so tired, you walk around in a dazed state.
On the odd occasion I’ve done it myself, and it’s like being on a long distance flight – very little sleep, permanent snacking, little movement from my seat, and when you finally arrive/finish your shift – you are so tired you almost fall asleep driving home and when you get there end up collapsing on the sofa completely drained – messing up your system even more!
The pitfalls and negative effects of night-shift work on your health are well documented. Night-shift workers have a higher risk of cardiac disease, mental health problems, obesity and cancer – and the lack of sleep can make you grumpy, aggressive and emotional. Juggling family and social life on top of it can add even more stress.
So this week I’m providing some tips on how to cope with it!
First and foremost, the key to surviving your shift, is making sure that you get 6-8 hours of sleep!
Depending on if it’s the start, middle or end of your shift pattern – it’s important to get some shut eye at the right time.
On the day of your first night shift, try and sleep-in as much as possible and have a nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon.
When you finish the shift don’t go to bed straight away – instead go to bed at a time equivalent to if you had finished work during the day ie. if you normally get home at 6pm and go to bed at 11pm (5 hours later), after your night shift, if you get home at 8am – then go to bed at 1pm.
Once you finish your stint of night shifts, to reduce the Jet Lag effect – when you get home, have a fairly large meal and nap for 3-4 hours before getting up again and then go to bed at your normal bedtime. A Melatonin tablet after your nap can also help to reset your body clock and get you through to bedtime.
2. Did I Mention Sleep?
Quality of sleep is just as vital, so it’s important to cool your bedroom, block out any light with thick curtains or tin foil on the inside of windows (or an eye-mask) and use ear plugs! If you’re scared this means you wont hear your alarm clock, then most fitness trackers have a vibrating silent alarm function (my other half is really grateful for this as I regularly have to be up at 4am!).
Try not to use your tablet or phone or watch tv while in bed and avoid having an alcoholic drink before hitting the sack, as although they all may help you to relax and get to sleep quicker – they affect the amount of quality deep sleep you need.
3. Prep Your Food
Food is another major issue, due to the lack of open cafes and shops most late night workers can fall into the trap of surviving off vending machines – so it’s important to prep! Take lots of healthy snacks and small meals, eating smaller portions but more frequently will help you avoid mid-meal cravings, help you to digest food more easily, which will then also help avoid stuffing yourself at “lunchtime” which can then make you feel even more tired.
Keep hydrated throughout your shift. Coffee or “Energy” drinks are fine for the start of your shift but should be avoided in the second half, so that they don’t affect your sleep.
4. Be A Vampire (only kidding)
Seriously though, daylight while on night shifts, is your enemy! When you finish your shift, wear sunglasses before heading outdoors. I even know some people that will use orange tinted glasses when at home to reduce the effect of sunlight coming in through windows!
At the end of your shifts, it’s quite the opposite and try to get as much daylight as possible after you’ve had your morning nap.
5. Take advantage of the quiet gym
We all know that exercise is good for us and it’s just as important if working nights. Most cities will have 24 hour gyms, otherwise gyms will usually open at 6 in the morning and close 10 at night, so you should be able to get into a gym or have a home workout either immediately before or after your shift – with the added luxury of the gym/pool being quieter and it can give you the energy to start your shift on a high or after your shift, help keep you awake till your bedtime.


6. Rethink your social calendar
Family & friends can also make working nights difficult – so don’t accept invites etc for during the day, just because no-one else is on nights. Remember sleep is your priority. Work things around YOUR schedule – play with your kids or help with their homework before your shift, and help get them ready for school when you get home in the morning.  Try meeting friends for “breakfast” rather than lunch or an evening meal.
For all you night-shift workers out there, have a good shift and if you’ve got any other tips – let us know!
Until next time…….

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