I’ve just finished working a run of night shifts and survived more or less intact so I thought I would share some tips which help me to function (almost) normally while on nights. I do prefer night shifts to days and have written about why I do here.
The biggest difference between working nights and normal day shifts is obviously sleep. You’re awake and working when your body wants to shut down and sleep. You have to convince your body to sleep during the day when it would be awake and functioning. The main environmental factor which triggers sleep or arousal is light. To sleep during the day you need to shut the light from your room. I have dark blinds and lined curtains. Even in the middle of summer (my room faces south so catches the lovely sunlight all day) it can be nice and dark.
The first night shift of a run of shifts can be challenging because you’re still in day mode. I find a couple of hours sleep in the afternoon help to prepare but you’re still shattered by the middle of the first shift.
Noise can interrupt a nice sleep so it is important to cut out noise where possible. I’m lucky that it is fairly quiet where I live. Occasionally I have to use earplugs for example when the local council decide that the only possible day they can dig holes in the pavement outside is when I’m on a set of nights.
On a long run of shifts the lack of natural daylight can lower your mood, especially in winter when it’s dark when you go to work and dark on the way home. Some days I wake up early and go for a short walk while it’s still light. The exercise and exposure to the daylight always do the trick for me, especially if I throw in some affirmations and run through my list of things I’m grateful for.
Obviously your eating routine is totally thrown out of the window when on nights. I haven’t got to the bottom of adjusting nutrition to suit night shift working yet, it does interest me however and is an area I intend to study. I have a big meal before I start work and make a fruit smoothie to drink while I’m getting ready to go. I take a few sandwiches and snacks to eat during the shift. Time to eat on shift is a big problem at work. I take a series of (healthy) snacks out on the road to eat between jobs. It seems to work for me – I don’t fade away or pile on the pounds. I manage to resist the urge to buy junk food (most of the time, anyway).
It is important to keep your water levels topped up on nights as it is during the day. There’s a certain type of headache I only ever get when I’m on nights. It’s when I wake up mid-afternoon: a vague, sickly sort of headache which lasts for about five hours. It seems to come when I’ve forgotten to keep sipping from my water bottle and never seems to happen when I’ve had a well hydrated night so I assume it’s a dehydration thing (not very scientific, I know, but the results corresponds very well to the data!).
After the nights are over.
That wonderful morning finally arrives when the night shifts are over. The trick now is to return to day mode as quickly as possible. It’s tempting to have a nice long sleep. The trouble is that if you do have a nice long sleep you will carry on the night shift mode and won’t be able to sleep that night. I find I have to cut short my nice long sleep and get up early. I feel like a zombie and have a head full of fog so in the afternoon I don’t try anything too taxing, just catch up with a few jobs around the house. Then that night I generally sleep well and wake up the next morning back to normal – well as normal as I ever am.