Night Shift Normalcy: Tricks to Feeling Human Again

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As night shift workers, avoiding daylight hours like a ghoul does tend to make one feel a bit off and far from normal. Simple steps and preparations can keep the resemblances to the undead to a minimum. 

Simple adjustments around sunlight exposure, blue light, physical movement, organization and flexibility within your social life will go a long way to ensuring you not only survive but prosper on the night shift. Remember, your job is there to finance your life, not to become it.

So put on a pot of coffee and squint angrily at the rising sun. Read on to know what it takes to be a modern-day vampire, but without the ambiguous European accent, inappropriate evening wear, and reckless consumption of red bodily fluids.

One way we stay human is by using blue light-blocking bulbs in our bedside lamps. These are our favorites, and we highly recommend them to anyone who wants to wind down for bed without disrupting their melatonin production.

1. Sunlight is the Enemy Before Bed

It’s only normal for you to try to stay awake in the daylight, it’s the natural order of things after all.

You, however, are an unnatural monstrosity, cursed to live in the twilight hours. (Good for you though if you prefer it this way though!)

Though it may go against every fiber of your being, the point remains that you will need to get into a mindset that the brightness of the day directly coincides with your need for sleep. In point of fact, one of the first things you will need to overcome when working a night shift is the odd feeling of sadness when seeing the sunrise. This is because a part of you will have a hard time reconciling the fact that it represents another night you will not sleep. 

This is perfectly natural and will pass relatively quickly the more night shift friends you make.

For the newbies or seasoned 3rd shifters trying to make a change, let’s talk about routine for a second. We advise you to hide from the sun between your night shift finishing and going to bed. Slide on those blue light blocking glasses or your favorite eye mask and button down those black-out blinds to create that cool, dark cave.

If you’ve got kids and you need to do the school drop off before bed or you’ve got other responsibilities you need to take care of before sleep, just minimize your exposure once you get home.

Once you’re done with sleep, do the opposite. Open the blinds, go outside and let the rays, if they are still there, hit your skin. Your body clock will thank you for it. I’ve added a video below we produced about working multiple nights in a row and how to stay sane, I think you’ll like it.

If you want to learn more about the sleep hormone nitty gritty and why light matters, this post titled Can A Person Live Without Sunlight? A Night Owls Must Read is a goodie.

Also, if you’re keen to try a new sleep aid, we recommend BonoWellness. It’s a little handheld device that sends small electrical currents through your palm. Yes, I know it sounds wild – but it works. Read about it here via our review or just give it a go here.

2. Keep an Exercise Routine (Even When Exhausted)

This is important for several reasons. Firstly, being a pale, wraithly figure tends to horrify the townsfolk. You’re going to need to keep yourself in shape, not only for physical health, but mental as well. Your energy levels will dwindle and become less than stellar in a dark environment.

Buzzing fluorescent lights are a poor substitute for a large fire sphere in the sky, and bats fluttering around aren’t as nice as birds (unless your name is Vlad and you are suspicious of guys named Van Helsing.)

Regular exercise will help you go to sleep on time and wake up energized. (source) It will go a long way to keep your mind sharp as well. Besides, you may as well look your best, even if you’re lurking in the shadows, hissing at the living (yes, I’m aware I’m really stressing the Dracula comparison here, but come on, it’s just too easy.) 

Secondly, routines are important. Something as easy as a scheduled walk around the block after work can far to help your mind acclimate to a permanent nightlife. It also goes without saying that there is something to be said for being able to take a nice stroll in the early morning, as the world comes alive.  

Finally, and there’s no easy way to put this, health food stores and restaurants don’t really cater to the late-night crowd. The people that cater to you are the same ones who cater to the late-night bar and college crowd. That means a lot of pizza, fried mysteries, and sugary drinks. Now, while this is awesome in your twenties, it can be astonishingly detrimental to anyone with a metabolism slower than a hummingbird. A regular exercise routine can go a long way to negating this assault on your cholesterol levels (tasty, tasty assault.)

You’ll find lots of information about night shift and exercise on this site, but I’ll save you the leg work;
Video – Best Time To Exercise When Working Night Shift
Blog article – What’s the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers? , Riding Tired. Handy Guide for Night Shift Cycling and Round Is Out! How Police Officers Can Stay In Perfect Shape

3. The World Doesn’t Cater to You – Unfortunately

Believe it or not, doctors tend not to make appointments after the sun goes down. In fact, and this is annoying, they tend to close up shop right around the time your alarm clock goes off. The same goes for almost every other person or service you will need to interact with on a daily basis.

Lawyers, accountants, tax services, dentists, and all others will selfishly decide to go home to their families and lives sometime before 18:00 usually. 

Even your trusted banks tend to not let you come waltzing in at midnight, in fact, that’s usually a felony (as the arresting officers will happily inform you.)

Unscrupulous malingerers.

All this means is that you will need to make a choice: Get things done after work, usually in the morning, or wake up early in the afternoon and beat the clock. Or spend precious time on your days off which may awkawrdly fall on the typical weekend.

Honestly, it depends on the circumstances. It might be better to do banking in the morning, but a dentist appointment may not be the best way to end your day. These are all a matter of preference though, and you will find your stride eventually. Just keep in mind that daily chores are a little harder for you as they involve a tad more planning and consideration. You’ll get the hang of it eventually, though after you work out what’s important and what works best for you and the family.

To help manage our schedule we’ve found that both calendar apps and lifestyle apps have really helped whip us into gear. Also, a shared digital calendar helps keep relationships on track socially so there are no surprises.

For most, life is harder when working nights. There are no butts about it. We need to dig deep and make it work for us because nobody else will.

4. Balancing Friends and Family

Speaking of unscrupulous malingerers, you still have friends, don’t you? Well, they too will need to be managed a little differently.

Weekends (if you are lucky enough to get them to yourself) will always present the perfect time to associate with those who annoy you the least. Unless your friends are the sort that enjoys gathering before noon (and those are psychopaths, not friends,) then you really will be unaffected. In a certain way, you will be better suited for the nightlife anyhow. You will be the King of Late Night among your inner circle. Indeed a God among Men. 

As your day usually begins in the afternoon, and most social functions occur in the evening, your social life will be largely unaffected. As an added bonus, keep in mind you can always use the “I’m too tired from working nights” as an excuse to get out of the annoying fishing trip that you wanted to avoid anyway (nobody likes handling worms, and smelling like fish is no way to live.)

Relatives will also probably need to be handled a bit differently. Parents, siblings, and others you share a bloodline with tend to like things done early. For reasons nobody will ever quite understand, parents especially believe that anything worth doing is worth doing at the crack of dawn. This will be the time you and your body have agreed you horizontal, but sadly your relatives tend not to care. 

Rather than end up on the news, another slight schedule adjustment may be needed (as well as copious amounts of coffee.)

In all, balancing your personal life with your new nocturnal existence is just as important as maintaining your health.

Your career funds your life, your relationships make that life worth living. 

We’ve talked a bit about friends and family on this site. Here are a few post’s you’ll enjoy next; Shift Work Single Life: How to Make the Right One Stick ​and Shift Work and Family. A Practical Guide For Busy Parents.

5. Significant Others and Events

Believe it or not, even soulless abominations such as yourself (last vampire metaphor, I swear,) can have healthy emotional attachments. Simply bite their neck and get a coffin built for two (I’m a liar, what can I say.)

In all honesty, most night workers tend to marry or date other ones. Even when this is not the case, it really isn’t as much of a hurdle as one would think.

On days when your significant other is working, you’ll be sleeping, so you weren’t going to see them during that time anyway. Afternoons you’ll function as normal as possible, then you head out while they head for bed. It’s actually not that much of an adjustment. Even weekends will be minimally impacted.

Sure, you’ll be awake in the night while they sleep, sitting silently by the fireplace, clawing a glass of scotch while gazing into the dying embers, muttering eldritch curses (that one might just be me.)

This is not to say there will not be stress. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, all these will be affected by your professional life, but it not oppressively so. Every once in a while you may be called on to be awake earlier than you would wish, or stay awake longer than is reasonable. Luckily, love is seldom reasonable, so you’ll do fine.

The simple fact is that as the nature of work schedules has evolved, people’s relationship expectations have evolved with it. Besides, it’s not as if the love of your life is a crying, irrational monster that only cares about its current needs and desires with an undying hatred of your sleep schedule…

On that note…children

The below video is for your partner. If they are having a hard time with you being away, consider sharing this with them.

6. Your Children

All the things about loving understanding and reasonable compromise I just wrote? Yeah that won’t apply here. This is just going to be a brutal assault on your psyche that won’t let up. If it’s any consolation (and it won’t be,) your day-dwelling compatriots will be suffering as well. Children are the cherub-faced assassins of rest, no matter the sleep schedule of their victims.

If you are lucky enough to have another parent involved in this process, you may very well be at an advantage here. For in their infancy, the child knows to assail the host organism during the rest period, in this way, their nefarious plan is complete. If you, however, are on alternating schedules of rest with your spouse, the child’s assault is powerless. Well, not entirely, you’ll still get blasted with all manner of goo and vitriol, but your partner can rest unabated (as an aside, all children are either sticky or slimy, this isn’t the gods punishing you for your midnight endeavors, it’s just the nature of things.)

This is not to say all things will be great with this plan, never forget that children require schools, doctors, play dates, and all manner of interactions that probably shouldn’t’ happen in the blackened corners of the city (unless you want a really cool kid who smokes nonfilter cigarettes, wears a fedora and trench coat and is a private detective in the 1940s.) As your child grows up, you will need Herculean levels of stamina to be awake for all the social functions that will require your presence. 

There will be a bizarre thing that will help you here, however: Parenthood. 

It’s a strange thing, but on the surface, no sane person would enjoy a child. They are noisy, sticky (as mentioned above,) smell like a drunk at closing time on their best days, bloated river corpse on their worst, and they are loud. One’s first impulse should be to flee from such a creature. As a parent though, you will gravitate towards them. That’s what happens in most cases. 

Such is the way with exhaustion. Parents have an, as of yet undefined, ability to overcome all manner of discomfort for the benefit of their children. Luckily you will have this as well. So worry not about kids when you take a night shift job, you’ll do fine here. 

Here a related post about kids and working nights you may like – Working Night Shift With Kids: How To Maximise Family Time. We will leave talking about pets for another time.

I don’t know you, but I believe in you (see, I went from calling you a vampire to a beacon of humanity. Neat huh?)

In conclusion, this world is not built around the night shift employee. This is not to say they are inferior or improper in any way; power plant workers, sanitation engineers, police officers, emergency room nurses, these are all noble, honest professions. Heck, thousands of years ago, some caveman had to stand by the fires at night to keep the wolves at bay, so suit up in your finest loincloth and grab a stick, Uglug, your shift is starting.

A life of the night shift employee is an unusual one, there is no denying that fact. Simply because the world isn’t tailored to your current schedule need not mean there will be undue suffering or inconvenience. Great things can happen in the night, and much is expected of you. 

Unless someone goes heavy on the garlic aftershave or hits you in the chest with a wooden stake. Then do your best angry face and turn to ash like the best of them.

Now, for what’s next, I have two post I think you’ll enjoy. Firstly, do you know your chronotype? I know it sounds intense and something you may not give a hoot about, but it can pull it all together. Go on, take a look. Secondly, if you just want a laugh, here are 38 good reasons!



Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

medical professional holding stethoscope with blue overlay and text.

Daniel Smith

Managing a global sales team I've experienced the challenges of working at all hours of the day and night. Being a shift worker I know how tough it can be balancing everyday life when you feel like you haven't slept in weeks! Providing advice and tips on how to manage your schedule, whilst still staying healthy is where I can help.

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