Maybe you’ve enjoyed all-night play sessions in your personal time, but working a night shift requires you to remain alert and functional until the early morning hours. In some cases, the lives of others may depend on your ability to do so. If you’re not a natural night owl, the following tips will help you master this challenging shift without ruining your health or losing your sanity.
1. Use an active lifestyle to control your sleep patterns outside of work.
The number one predictor of how you will feel during a night shift is what you do prior to reporting for that shift. You want to arrive so well-rested that it feels like morning as long as you don’t look out the window. In order to accomplish this, you need to sleep most of the day before your shift begins. If you’re accustomed to a daytime schedule, you’re more likely to toss and turn than sleep if you don’t exhaust your energy the night before.
For your first night shift, start preparing 48 hours in advance. Plan an intense day of action two days before your shift, and extend the fun as late into the night as possible. If you can make it, try to stay awake until 5 or 6 am the day before the shift. This will leave you exhausted and ready to crash for the day, setting you up for a well-rested start that night.
If you must work night shifts all week, try to maintain an active lifestyle with dedicated sleep hours so that your body adjusts to nighttime duty. Some workers sleep all day while others prefer a period of alert activity in the middle of the day with shorter sleep sessions just before and after each shift. Experiment to see what works best for you, but then stick to one schedule.
2. Put coffee and other healthy stimulants in their place.
It’s true that coffee and other sources of caffeine work well with the night shift, but it’s not wise to drink too much during the second half of your shift. You will naturally experience heightened energy when you see the sun come up, but you don’t want to get so revved up that you can’t rest during your designated sleep hours. It’s best to enjoy your coffee at the start of your shift, and you can replenish your reserves if you notice a mid-shift energy drop.
3. Never underestimate the power nap.
It may seem like 15 or 20 minutes of shuteye will do nothing for you, but seasoned nighttime employees know that you can refresh your brain in that amount of time. If you have a 15-minute break, set the alarm on your phone and find a quiet, dark place to rest. Depending on your job, you may also do this between customers or while patients are resting peacefully. Just make sure you don’t extend these naps beyond 20 minutes.
4. Pack nutritious foods that you can enjoy throughout your shift.
Save the large meal and heavy carbs for your post-shift breakfast. Light snacks like baby carrots and celery sticks dipped in peanut butter, mixed nuts and fresh fruit are easy to consume while working. They’re also high in vitamins and minerals that will help keep your mind alert and focused until morning. Do your brain a favor and don’t try to go the full shift without snacks. You also want to drink water before, during and after your shift to avoid energy slumps from dehydration.
5. Embrace your social side.
Even if your job is a solo operation, try to communicate with your coworkers as often as possible. Interacting with others who are alert and active will help you remain alert and active as well. This is the reason many night-shift employees report strong relationships with their colleagues. They spend time sharing jokes and commiserating about the ups and downs of life in the wee hours of the morning.
You’re bound to hear some horror stories when you tell people that you’re working a night schedule. Tune that information out so that you can determine how your body reacts to the schedule. Many people actually enjoy the night shift once they physically and mentally adjust.