How To: Night Shift Survival 

So, you’ve decided to cross over to the dark side? Welcome, regardless of whether you’re here willingly or not, you’ll need some help.

Here are three basic concepts to overcoming the night shift.

Source: me, a professional sleeper, approx 1.5 years on the 11pm to 7am.
1) Pick a sleep schedule and STICK TO IT.

I cannot understate the importance of consistency here.

To start, if we cut a 24 hour day into 8 hour chunks, you have 3 time slots.

8 hours is the standard work shift, and approximately, the recommended number of hours we should be sleeping per day (let the record show I am a firm advocate for a higher, medically recommended, number of sleep hours per day!).

It is generally agreed that it is more ‘natural’ for us to sleep in the hours before work and stay awake post-shift, because that is what our bodies were programmed to do.

However this might not work for everyone. The key is stick to the hours you’ve decided are best suited for you.

I am guilty of assuming a flexible schedule and riding through exhaustion on the borrowed energy from sunlight. But if you think about it, being erratic with your sleep schedule is equivalent to someone who doesn’t work nights, randomly staying up all night.  You wouldn’t expect someone to be available at 3:00 am if they work a day job, so don’t expect to be available at your 3:00am.

2) Food yourself.

Your internal clock is a complicated and vengeful, son of a  … mechanism. If you cross her, she’ll eat you alive. There are tons of articles online that can explain – better than I – exactly how we impact our internal clocks with food, sunlight, rest periods, etc. so if you’re interested go read those.

The important take away from all of those studies is that we can impact our internal clocks and when you work nights, you have to become consciously involved in parts of your life you normally wouldn’t think about.

You have to decide when to sleep, and around that, when you eat.  Again, for more information and advice, you’ll want to skim google to figure out what works for your schedule. But pick a routine, plan your meals with enough nutrition, and stick to you meal preps.

Hydration is also a big player for night workers. Its a great way to keep you awake without the caffeine, and will help your body’s overall performance – a much needed boost for some of the hits your body takes from an un-natural sleeping pattern.

3) The wind down. 

This is your sleep preparation. Another grossly underplayed part of working nights. Once you’ve picked a sleep schedule you have to create an ‘evening’ before you sleep. It – again – has to do with simulating natural conditions for our bodies, that includes the natural decrease of light the precedes night time.

Our brains are programmed to ‘activate’ or react to sunlight, so you can’t expect to spend hours out in the sun and then go down for a restful 8 hour sleep, we weren’t made for that.

Some tips to help sleep:

  • Avoid direct and indirect sunlight via sun glasses & closed blinds several hours before sleep
  • No electronic screens, they emit a blue wave length that also wakes up the brain
  • Sleep with an eye mask because total darkness resets the visual brain
  • Hang a threatening sign on your door with the promise of a slow death if you’re woken
  • Prepare your environment to have as much quiet as possible while you sleep
  • Keep your room on the cooler side. Its proven to be conducive to a better sleep
  • General tips for sleeping better at night, like caffeine and alcohol avoidance, are 100 times more important and effective with irregular sleeping habits. You have been warned.

 

Those are the 3 main points I’ve come to learn are most beneficial to a night worker. There are a ton of other tips that talk about our lowered immune systems and higher probabilities for getting a long term illness, but those are all things I will leave to more educated minds.

Good luck.

-R

 

 

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