Work can be hard enough all on its own, but an increasing number of Americans are now working overnight shifts, which can provide added challenges to a daily schedule. In an increasingly 24 hour world, workers of all types, like warehouse associates and truck drivers, find themselves up at odd hours to get the job done. Unfortunately, keeping these schedules can lead to difficulty in adopting a healthy work-life balance and even an increased risk of certain metabolic problems.
If you find yourself among this group of night owls, the good news is that millions of workers have successfully adapted to keeping an irregular schedule while benefiting from the increased pay these shifts often provide.
In this article, we’re breaking down all our top tips for not just working, but thriving on the night shift!
Develop a Routine
The human body is designed to sleep at night-time. In order to counteract your own internal clock, it’s best to create a consistent routine and prioritize blocking out 7-9 hours for sleep every single day. Time management strategies are a great way to train your body to be tired and alert when you want it to and adjust efficiently. Build in time for must-do tasks like cooking and cleaning so your all-important sleep can remain uninterrupted. There’s a definite correlation between high-quality sleep and high-quality work!
Create a Happy Sleep Environment
Good sleep hygiene practices are a critical part of beating the natural tendencies of your circadian rhythm. A big part of this is making physical adjustments to the place where you sleep. Blackout curtains are a must for initiating nighttime and you might also consider eye masks, earplugs and fans or a white noise machine. Try to avoid alcohol and nicotine (both can diminish sleep quality) and stay away from activities that make you feel alert. Blue lights from devices like smartphones and tablets can also knock off circadian rhythms and make it harder to sleep, so avoid those before bed if possible as well. Keep in mind that sleepless nights can accumulate in the form of “sleep debt” and the only way to pay it back is by getting the amount you need and more.
Eat Well-Rounded Meals
Metabolism and sleep patterns go hand in hand, which unfortunately means that night workers are at increased risk of becoming overweight due to disruption of the body clock. Planning healthy meals in advance is a good way to combat this, and can help you stay alert during your working hours. For lunch, always include a protein and some type of green or vegetables. At this point sugary snacks are well-known for their rush of energy, followed by an even bigger crash, so you’re best off sticking with healthier choices like whole fruit or energy bars. Ultimately, you have to experiment until you reach a solution that satiates your cravings and makes you feel your best. Some workers have found smaller and more frequent meals as the best solution to keeping their energy levels up.
Watch Your Caffeine Intake
Many night shift workers are used to drinking multiple cups of coffee to jumpstart their evening, but is this the most effective way to gain long-lasting energy? Research suggests otherwise. Consider smaller doses of caffeine spaced out more frequently throughout the day. Workers who consumed several quarter-cups of coffee reported enhanced wakefulness and performed better on cognitive tests than those who drank a larger dose all at once. Remember that the effects of caffeine can take up to 20 minutes to be felt and you should stop consuming it at least 6 hours before you go to bed so that the stimulant doesn’t affect your sleep.
Exercise When Possible
Consistent exercise is key, not only, but especially for night shift workers. Beyond all the normal positive benefits of reducing the risk of developing heart disease, maintaining a healthy weight and improving cognitive functioning, an exercise routine is a natural way to get your blood flowing and induce alertness for your job. Try to adopt a routine that incorporates cardio, strength and flexibility training: 24 gyms might be your friend here. You can also look into the abundance of apps and online programs that will allow you to take virtual classes at whatever time best suits you.
The effect simple sunlight has on chemical events in your body is truly astounding, but you must use it to your advantage when keeping nocturnal hours. Nothing can truly replace natural sunlight, so try to prioritize exposure as much as you can and consider taking Vitamin D supplements to make up for any deficiencies. As a substitute for wakefulness purposes, increasing your exposure to bright light, including overhead lights, desk lamps or light boxes, can signal to your body when to stay awake and when it’s time for bed. On the flip side, you can wear sunglasses on your way home to suppress light and make use out of those backlight curtains to maximize your drowsiness when it’s the proper time.
Optimize Your Napping
Effective and well-timed naps can be a great tool to increase alertness and reduce on-the-job errors. Although not all jobs might allow it, incorporate it into your daily routine if possible. Naps of 20 to 45 minutes roughly line up with the length of one sleep cycle, making them the perfect length for restoring brainpower and making sure you don’t wake up during deep sleep. Find a cool, dark, quiet space and come out refreshed, recharged and ready to go.
Find Time to Spend With Loved Ones
Don’t underestimate the importance of life in the work-life balance equation. Maintaining opposite schedules can make it extremely difficult to maintain relationships with even the closest of friends and family. Let loved ones know they remain a priority and the two of you can try to “meet in the middle” by finding times to get together that are least disruptive to both of your schedules. If you live with someone on an opposing schedule, limiting noise and light during the other’s sleeping hours is always important to maintain peace! Finally, build in time to self-evaluate if a night shift schedule is working for you. If you find yourself in need of change, it’s always worth a conversation with your employer to see what options might be available to you, including time off for hours adjustment.
It’s our hope that these tips set you up for success on the night shift! If you’re on the lookout for new work opportunities of any kind, check out the Movo app for job opportunities and the ability to sign up for consistent work at a top employer that fits your schedule.