Night Shift Recovery: Solid Advice You’ll Want To Hear

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Night shift work can have greater negative impacts on your mind and body than working the same job during the day. In addition, interactions outside of work, such as your social life and relationships, can often be place under more strain. So with this in mind, putting steps in place to recover both mentally and physically is critical to your thinking, energy, and soul.

Recovering from night shift work involves preparation and recuperation. Keeping a balanced schedule of rest and activity along with healthy eating habits are essential for night shift workers. Taking action before problems arise will reduce risks to your mental, physical, and emotional health.

As a night shift worker, you have to work harder to combat the effects of your disgruntled circadian rhythm. Fortunately, developing habits that boost your rate of recovery will benefit your overall wellbeing. So what does that look like and where do we start? That’s where we come in!

Refresh Your Mind After (and During) Night Shift

Working the night shift has shown an increased rate of cognitive decline. People who work the night shift often experience a greater amount of memory problems. Other symptoms of working the night shift include reduced attention to detail and memory fog. (source)

The most important thing you need to do for your brain is to get plenty of quality sleep. Creating a space to get in a solid sleep during daylight hours is key. Using blackout curtains, blue light blocking glasses, eye masks, soundproofing, and ambient noises are all ways to improve the quality of the sleep you receive.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Taking care of your mind requires learning how to focus. Learning how to clear away life’s anxieties with meditation can reduce stress. Meditation is a great way to train your brain and practice mindfulness.

Being mindful means you are cognitively present and fully attentive to the present task or conversation at hand. Some say, irrespective of working night shift, that mindfulness should be practiced during every activity in your life. You will find great improvements to both memory and relationships at home or work when you learn to practice moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Activities for the Mind

Problem-solving activities like puzzles and crosswords are a great way to stimulate your memory and decision-making skills. Putting together a jigsaw puzzle increases cognitive function by accessing both the fine motor skills from handling the pieces and your memory of how the puzzle looks when assembled. Virtual puzzles may have some impact on improving memory but lack the physical connection you get from touching the puzzle pieces.

Reading books is another way to keep your mind sharp. Fiction books are great for exploring your imagination and sparking creativity. Nonfiction books will expand your knowledge and teach you new concepts.

Staying organized at home and at work can help reduce the chances of forgetting important events. It also helps to eliminate time lost from searching for those misplaced keys or that important file you swore was on your desk. Less clutter has also been shown to reduce stress levels.

Nutrition for Your Mind

The first step to better brain health is to monitor your sugar intake. Consuming sugary snacks and drinks leads to extreme spikes and drops in energy. This can also cause impairments to your speed of cognition.

  • Dark chocolate aids in the essential production of blood vessels and neurons. This leads to an increase in oxygen flow to the brain and vital organs. Dark chocolate also contains antioxidants that protect your cells from energy stealing free radicals.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood have been known to improve both brain and eyes health. This essential element helps in the construction of brain and nerve cells. They also aid in learning and memory, whilst building more gray matter in the brain where decision-making and emotional control occur.
  • Blueberries contain anthocyanins that provide beneficial anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These flavinoids found in a number of fruits and vegetables fight off the aging of the brain and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Anthocyanins are abundant in blueberries and amplify brain cell communication resulting in improved memory and cognition.
  • Turmeric is a dark yellow spice commonly found in curry powder. The active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, contains both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. This bioactive substance promotes new brain cell growth, reduces depression, and improves memory.
  • Broccoli is another food source packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It also contains vitamin K which helps build sphingolipids. This dense fat is found inside your brain cells and improves memory and cognitive functions.

    Related post: Shift Work Nutrition Advice Most Are Afraid to Talk About
  • Pumpkin seeds provide a wealth of copper, zinc, magnesium, and iron. Nerve signals are clearer when your body has the proper amount of copper and zinc. Magnesium boosts memory and your ability to learn and iron reduces memory fog that impairs your thinking.
  • Adding nuts to your snack menu is another way to boost brain health. Nuts contain vitamin E which has been shown to slow down cognitive decline. Eating nuts can also help sharpen your memory.
  • Forget the old apple a day and give oranges a seat at your dining table. The vitamin C found in oranges boosts your immunity. It also improves your focus, attention, memory, and the speed of your decision-making.
  • Eggs are a great source for some essential B vitamins like B6, B12, folate, and choline. Eating eggs helps create the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood and boosting memory. Low levels of these B vitamins have been linked to depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Forgo that cup of coffee and consider drinking green tea instead. This healthy alternative provides alertness, improved memory, focus, and performance. Its secret ingredient, L-theanine, is an amino acid known to reduce anxiety and improves relaxation. In addition, green tea contains polyphenols that prevent mental decline and lowers your chances of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Though eating the right foods on nights is one part of the puzzle, when to eat them is the other really important part. Watch the video below to find out more.

Rebuild Your Body After (and During) Night Shift

Night shift workers are found to have lower levels of serotonin. (source) This neurotransmitter, found in your digestive system and your blood platelets, performs many important duties. Serotonin is responsible for:

  • stimulation of your wake/sleep cycle
  • stabilizing your mood
  • managing nausea
  • controlling bowel movements
  • healing wounds through healthy clotting

Serotonin also impacts bone health. Too much serotonin in the body leads to the development of osteoporosis. As for your libido, low levels of serotonin raise your sex drive while high levels do just the opposite.

Working the night shift often means a lack of sunlight in your schedule. As a result, your vitamin D levels will be greatly diminished. While there are other means of getting this crucial vitamin, sunlight is the best source.

Vitamin D plays a major role in your body’s energy levels. It also impacts your digestion and has an effect on your heart. Low levels of vitamin D leads to overall fatigue that can:

  • impair your motor skills
  • weaken your muscles
  • stunt your reaction time

Activities for the Body

Finding ways to combat the lack of sunlight in your life can help alleviate the problems that arise from low levels of serotonin and vitamin D. Using bright lights (or these very popular LED glasses) during your night shift is one way to trick the body into producing the serotonin needed to stay awake.

Cardio exercises are a great way for you to get the heart pumping and jump-start your night shift. These types of exercises increase blood flow and improve your oxygen levels. When your body’s oxygen levels are at their best, your energy levels remain steady for longer periods of time.

When it comes time to get some rest, exercises designed to lower your heart rate and calm the body are ideal. You will be able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer after a routine of cool-down exercises. Meditation could also be used here to help slow things right down before going to sleep.

VIDEO – Going to the Gym After Night Shift. Good Idea?

Nutrition for Your Body

Your diet can have positive or negative impacts on your body. Learning more about the foods you ingest will help you understand what to eat and what’s best to avoid. Here are just a few foods that can strengthen your body and improve your ability to recover from night shift damage.

  • Chicken contains amino acids your body needs for building muscle. It’s also loaded with B vitamins that improve your metabolization. Furthermore, this lean protein contains the mineral selenium which aids your immune system and improves the health of your thyroid.
  • Quinoa is an iron-rich complex protein disguised as a grain. It’s the best source of the amino acid leucine which stimulates muscle growth. Quinoa is a good source of magnesium and potassium for preventing muscle cramps.
  • Greek yogurt is a flavorful food that is brimming with calcium. Eating calcium-rich foods helps build strong bones which prevent breaking and reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis. You can also reduce your risk of muscle cramps by eating Greek yogurt. (source)
  • More than just brain food, eggs are a wonderful source of a complete protein. They have a perfectly balanced fat content for maximum benefits. Eggs are very popular for strength training and building muscle mass.
  • In addition to its memory boosting and relaxation skills, green tea has positive impacts on your body. It has been found to improve your digestion which can counteract the negative effects the night shift has on your metabolization. Plus, drinking green tea reduces your chance of having a stroke and lowers the risk of some cancers. (source)
  • Watermelon is more than just a sweet summertime treat. It stimulates the production of nitric oxide that expands the width of your blood vessels. This leads to an increase in blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain and body. (source)

Restore Your Soul After (and During) Night Shift

Your night shift schedule impacts more than just your circadian clock’s ability to keep your mind and body healthy. Working at night often means you are missing out on all the activities of family and friends. This unexpected social void can have a detrimental effect on your soul’s need for connecting with others.

There is an abundance of information available on how to improve your mental agility. Even knowledge on how to be more physically fit can be found everywhere you look. However, not enough focus is put on the importance of self-care as it relates to revitalizing your spirit.

As a night shift worker, your ability to spend time with family and friends is controlled by your work schedule. Finding ways to fit in quality time with others can prove to be difficult when everyone has a busy life. Even so, it is important for you to squeeze in those essential moments of interpersonal connections.

Social interactions help stimulate your body’s serotonin levels and can reduce feelings of anxiety. Meeting a friend for a quick bite to eat can be a way to choose healthy foods and boost your mood through companionship. It’s not about how much time you spend together but rather what you do with the time you have to spend.

Part of being able to refresh your soul is knowing who you are as an individual. Beyond being a friend, spouse, parent, or co-worker, you must be able to know yourself. What do you enjoy doing when not at work? Where do you like spending time outside of the other roles you play?

Activities for the Soul

Spending time with nature can be one of the most beneficial things you can do for your soul. A walk in the park or even a stroll through your neighborhood can do wonders for your spirit. If you are fortunate enough to live near a body of water be it a lake, river, or ocean, spend time taking in the energy of nature.

The soothing sounds of the water create a steady relaxing rhythm reminiscent of being in the safe confines of the womb. Your soul yearns for security that can be replicated by hearing the comforting sound of rushing water or gently crashing waves. A bonus of reconnecting to nature comes in the form of free electrons released by the earth that you can absorb through your bare feet making contact with the ground.

This is perhaps why beach yoga has become such a popular activity. You are plugging into the positive energy of the earth while slowing down your mind and body. And even if you can’t get near actual water, watching videos or listening to recordings of the water can be beneficial to your soul.

Journaling can be a tool used for soul searching and reconnecting to who you are and who you want to be. Writing down your thoughts is a great way to sort through ideas and discover what is missing in your life. It’s easy to forget about yourself when you spend so much of your time taking care of others.

If you want to give journaling a go, this is a really beautiful place to start.

Nutrition for Your Soul

While it’s important to eat healthy for the sake of your mental and physical health, feeding your soul is about the enjoyment food brings. Life needs balance and sometimes that means taking a bite out of forbidden foods. So if eating a giant piece of chocolate cake takes you back to the carefree days of childhood, indulging every now and again is ok.

Comfort foods earned their name because they provide a warmth that only familiarity can bring you. Maybe you have a favorite dish, either home-cooked or from a restaurant, that helps get you through tough times. Or perhaps it’s the smell of a treasured food that will light the fire your soul needs to keep going.

When it comes to choosing the right foods to feed your soul, it’s all about what makes you feel good.

For some people that will mean cooking a feast fit for a king and others may be just as satisfied with a bowl of soup.

Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice happiness, especially when it comes down to what you want to eat.

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For us, night workers, focusing on the 3 areas of your mind, body, and soul post-night shift is a great way to manage your ability to bounce back and repeat from one shift to the next. But not only that, it provides you with the required energy to attack your passions outside the workplace and still stay connected with those most important to you.

The night shift does not need to be all doom and gloom with some planning. At The Other Shift, we thoroughly enjoy our work/life balance (and the night shift differential!) and don’t feel as if we are missing out on what we want from our life, as the preparation and self-care always ensures our mindset allows us to see the positives from what we have been given, each and every day.

We hope this article allowed you to make the mindset shift too. If you like a slightly different take on night shift recovery, this post may help you out too and so too might this infographic.


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.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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