How To Work Night Shift And Stay Healthy

Everyone who works outside the traditional working hours is considered a shift worker. Today, more than 20% of workers are working either night shifts or rotating shifts.

This topic wouldn’t be of such interest of us if it didn’t affect our sleep and finally our health. The number of people working this way is only growing and they are constantly looking for some shift working sleeping tips.

Firefighters, doctors, nurses, factory workers, police officers, bartenders and office cleaning staff all share a risk of developing shift work sleep disorder. Not everyone who works odd hours has it, but surely most of them can be affected by it sooner or later.

Sleep is crucial for our well-being and any sleeping disorder might raise the chances of diverse physical as well as mental issues. Never underestimate the importance of a good, healthy sleep and keep yourself informed about the methods to help you achieve some restful nighttime.

In this article, we will address the problem that a lot of night shift workers experience. We will provide you with tips on how to stay healthy while working night shifts.

But first, let’s analyze what could go wrong if you don’t pay enough attention to your body’s natural needs.

What Are The Side Effects Of Working Night Shift?

Shift workers tend to have an increased risk of certain physical and mental issues.

Apart from the ones that are not that threatening, as experiencing chronic fatigue or headaches, shift working might cause some serious health problems.

Shift work might increase the risk of:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • breast cancer and colon cancer
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • mental health problems

Like if it wasn’t enough, people that work non-traditional hours are also at a higher risk for workplace accidents. This is due to elevated fatigue that these workers experience on a daily basis.

How Can Night Shift Workers Stay Healthy?

After reading the side effects maybe you got yourself wondering “How to work night shift and stay healthy?”. The truth is that it’s far more difficult maintaining a good biorhythm by working rotate-shifts than it is the case with the night shifts.

Even if working up until late (or early in the morning) might not be the best conditions for your sleeping time, if working regularly the same shifts, your body will eventually get used to it. Your circadian rhythm will adapt to the new environment and you might actually end up filling your awake time with good habits and feel good.

Switching shifts is what makes maintaining a healthy lifestyle way harder. A nurse that works 4 hours during the night one day, only to be working in the afternoon the next day, may not have enough time to adjust to this rhythm. Our bodies aren’t capable of changing the tempos that fast.

In both cases, it is highly advisable to include workouts in your schedule as well as to add healthy foods and supplements to your diet. These are the first steps you have to undertake before thinking of introducing new methods.

How To Transition From Day Shift To Night Shift?

If you’re planning to transition to night shift work after having worked regular day shifts you should be asking yourself: “How do I prepare for an overnight shift?”.

When changing work shifts, our sleep cycle inevitably changes. This alters our circadian rhythm and might result in having sudden crashing exhaustion or changes in appetite and blood pressure.

Surviving your first night shift with no sleep is definitely a big challenge. But there are things you can do that can help your body overcome the shock of change more easily and avoid the potential problems that might go along with it.

As mentioned above, it is very important to pay attention to your diet. The healthier you eat, the healthier your sleep will be. It is even more important to have a good recovery sleep if you’re about to change your wake-sleep cycle.

It would be wise to take a few days off before your change in work schedule so you could take more time to slowly adjust your body to the new pattern. If you manage to stay awake later each night until you can achieve staying awake the entire night, it will surely get you on the right track.

Our bodies prefer slower changes than shocking alterations.

How Long Should You Sleep Before A Night Shift?

Although a lot of night shift workers complain how it’s impossible for them to sleep a 7 to 9 full hours, having rest for at least 6 hours might be enough. If you take naps, you would be more than fine with sleeping 5 full hours and combining it with 2 hours naps spread during the day.

The most important thing here is not to sleep at all or sleep poorly for a couple of hours. If you find yourself having troubles with falling asleep give our tips a try and let us know if they worked.

So far, we have identified several questions that you might be asking yourself if you’re working or getting prepared to work night shifts.
As promised, we will now list the best tips that will help you get enough sleep and avoid that “always tired” feeling while working night shifts.

You can be a night shift worker and be healthy at the same time. So let’s finally start!

Best Sleep Schedule For Night Shift

A lot of people wonder if there is an exact sleep schedule one should follow while working night shifts that would enable healthier sleep and lead to more fulfilled days. Although one single schedule might not be the perfect solution for everyone, there are some guidelines that generally all night shift workers might follow in order to have a better, sounder sleep.

Charmane Eastman, Phd and researcher at the Biological Rhythms Research Lab at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, has been studying the way shift workers sleep for almost three decades, and has shared the “ideal” workday plan one should follow in order to avoid feeling sleepy throughout the day.

Here’s how the best sleep schedule for night shift workers should look like according to Eastman.

When you’re at work, stimulate daytime by spending time in a bright environment, turn on the lights or invest in a light-therapy box. This way, your circadian rhythm will more naturally sync with your daytime sleeping hours.

Also, if you drink coffee, have your last cup at least 4 to 6 hours before your planned bedtime. So, for instance, if you work from 11 P.M. to 5 A.M., have your coffee around 3 A.M.

When you dine also influences how well you sleep, therefore, make sure not to eat too close to your bedtime. Instead, have your dinner around 3 or 4 A.M..

Then, when you arrive home, let’s suppose, around 7 A.M., turn off the lights, and make sure you wear dark sunglasses on your way back home. Invest in candles that will give you some light without confusing your melatonin secretion. Light-blocking, heavy curtains will also help you reach a better sleeping environment, while additionally protecting you from outdoor noises and sounds.

Also, avoid looking into any type of screens, since blue light emitted from your smartphone, TV or computer might also influence your body’s circadian rhythm.

Finally, go to bed at 8 A.M. in your darkened bedroom and try to sleep until 3 P.M. As soon as you wake up, expose yourself to the sun light in order to trick your body into thinking it is morning.

11 P.M. – 5 A.M.Work
5 A.M. – 8 A.M.Free time, commute, prepare for sleep
8 A.M. – 3 P.M.Sleep
3 P.M. – 11 P.M.Free time

Shift Working Sleeping Tips

1. Keep The Same Sleep Schedule

One of the most difficult challenges in working night shifts is managing to keep the same sleep cycle on your days off. Most of the night workers indulge in sleeping on their days off, and that’s ok, but the thing is that you should try to sleep always at the same time.

This way your body will understand when it has to be alert and when it can relax and sleep.

2. Involve Your Friends and Family

In order to maintain a healthy life while working night shifts, you might want to involve your family and friends as much as possible. You will most likely have opposite schedules from them, so ensure that they know when is your sleeping time so that you can have some rest.

Try to specify times for phone calls, “date nights” and family time so socializing doesn’t affect your new rhythm.

3. Control Your Intake of Light

Our circadian rhythm is ruled by daylight. Therefore, if your workplace is bright it might help you staying alert during shifts. If that’s not the case, talk to your boss and kindly ask him to add some changes. Your colleagues will be happy too.

However, when you leave work, avoid bright light and sun by putting your sunglasses on. Always head straight home. This way you will reduce the effects of light on your brain and it will be easier for you to fall asleep once you’re home.

4. Arrange Your Sleeping Environment

As we mentioned before, light stimulates your brain to stay awake. You wouldn’t want to feel sleepy on your way back home and then twist and turn in your bed for hours because of too much light or noise.

That’s why it’s important to ensure your sleeping environment is adapted to your sleeping schedules as well. Apart from a comfortable bed, it’s essential to have curtains that would block as much sunlight as possible when you are sleeping. Wearing an eye mask might also be quite handy.

Sunlight coming into your room will stimulate your brain into staying awake and affect your sleep. This happens even if you’re deeply sleeping, and it might be the cause of feeling chronically tired.

Using ear plugs is also clever, as noises that arise when everybody else wakes up might make it harder for you to fall asleep.

5. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol Intake

It is more than fine to have your cup of coffee in the first hours of your work shift. Nonetheless, avoiding caffeine later in your shift might actually be a good idea, as it won’t affect falling asleep once you get home.

You should avoid any kind of stimulants for at least 3-4 hours before going to sleep. Even if a glass of wine seems like a good treat, alcohol is a potent stimulant and can confuse your sleep patterns.

Large meals or extremely hard workouts are not recommendable too before your bedtime.

6. Take Power Naps

Naps are a perfect way for night shift workers to fight fatigue and keep themselves alert.

Studies have shown that naps from 20-45 minutes actually help us feel refreshed and restore brainpower. Sometimes we just need some rest, even the shortest one, so next time you’re on your break, take profit and take a good old power nap.

Watch out not to exceed 45 minutes, as you might fall into deeper sleep stage which will only make you groggy. Naps are great, but you should take them in moderation as you wouldn’t want them to affect your real deep sleep.

7. Maintain a Healthy Diet

When getting into a new wake-sleep schedule, our metabolism gets out of balance too. Night shift workers are more prone to developing obesity or becoming overweight. That’s why it is very important to give your nutrition some special attention.

Staying hydrated and eating small portions of food every few hours will help your blood sugar stabilize. Also, try avoiding sugar and refined foods, instead choose nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables that are easy to digest, should become your new favorite snacks. They will boost you with some healthy sugar, vitamins, and minerals and provide a natural energizer through the work shift. On the other hand, foods that are hard to digest, spicy or fried meals, are not recommended as they will take more energy than they can give you.

Another thing you might want to include are some supplements. While it is good to up your game with your daily intake of vitamins and minerals, it might be a good idea to consider other supplements too. If you’re having trouble falling asleep after a night shift, pills like melatonin might actually help.

It’s a significant challenge to maintain a healthy diet in a non-traditional working schedule, but planning your meals in advance might really help you out here.

8. Exercise Regularly

Don’t forget to get involved in some physical activities. This is very important as it will make easier for you to fall asleep when it’s time, but also help you reach higher energy levels when you’re awake.

Exercise will also help you feel better and happier. As soon as you wake up do some stretches and head outside. A walk before your work will definitely do you good!

9. Keep Yourself Busy All Night

What to do on your days off? Well even if you might not like it, the best thing to do is to keep yourself busy during the time you usually handle work responsibilities.

You can use this time for turning to that hobby of yours that you have left behind, or reading a book or magazine. Whatever you choose to do, keeping your schedule steady will help you avoid the exhaustion of night shifts and reduce the risk from disorders that might occur from altered sleeping rhythms.

10. Avoid Rotating Shifts and Overtime

If your job permits, try avoiding rotating shifts. If that’s not possible, making sure your shift rotation is in a clockwise pattern might make it much easier.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, scheduling succeeding shift in the manner that they start later than the previous one will make everything easier.

You should also think twice before accepting overtime work or passing on vacation time. The money you earn won’t buy you enough sleep and additional shifts may affect seriously on your wellness.