Night Shift Rut: Break the Cycle and Get Your Life Back

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Are you feeling tired and a bit stuck? We feel you. As a night shift worker, you need to create a balanced routine in order to maintain your mental, physical, and emotional health. If just one aspect of your daily life goes astray, like not getting enough sleep, it can negatively impact everything else – as you’ve probably felt once or twice before. Physically, you may feel weak while mentally you’re unable to think clearly. Even your emotions can take a hit from being tired as you snap at co-workers or yell at family because you’re tired and grumpy.

Restoring balance as a night shift worker starts with taking an inventory of your physical and mental well-being and addressing any issues. Next, evaluate your home and work environments and make any necessary adjustments. Finally, revise your routine to align with the improvements you need to make.

Sometimes, making a change or two to your night shift routine can result in significant improvements to your health. Living your best life begins with recognizing when a problem needs correcting and taking action to fix it. In addition, we cannot forget about routine, which I understand sounds boring. But we must find something which works for you and your needs. Here are six areas we are going to focus on which will make the most impact;

Eating HabitsQuality and Quantity of Sleep
Physical Activity Mental Health Inventory
Evaluate Your EnvironmentsAdjust Your Routine

If you’re interested in the best sleep mask we use and love you can find them on the Manta Sleep Website by clicking hereOpens in a new tab..

Take a Look at Your Night Shift Eating Habits

Questions to ponder as you read:
– What am I eating on night shift?
– When am I eating on night shift?
– Am I hungry when eating on night shift or am I just bored?
– When I eat on night shift how does it make me feel?

Your physical health inventory includes evaluating your eating habits, activity levels and quantity and quality of sleep. Let’s start with food.

As a night shift worker, you’re working against your body’s natural clock. This disruption to your circadian rhythm impacts your metabolism and digestive system something terrible. As a result, some night shift workers experience unexpected weight gain, nausea and stomach cramps while others may lose weight. (Struggling with weight gain on the 3rd shift, get help here).

Managing your weight involves knowing the best types of food to eat and importantly when to eat them. Being aware of what foods to eat to boost your energy can help jump-start your day. Likewise, snacking on foods that trigger drowsiness will help you obtain more restful sleep (here are a couple to keep in mind).

This Youtube video we produced explores the idea of food timing and its importance which we suggest is a good place to start.

Another thing to consider when trying to maintain a healthy weight is the amount of food you’re eating. Making sure to properly portion your meals with a balance of lean protein and complex carbohydrates will keep you from getting hungry in between grazings. You’ll also have prolonged energy rather than the rushes and crashes caused by fuel substitutes like sugar and caffeine.

Our hormones play tricks on us when we are tired, as I speak about in this video, which is why we crave food, particularly junk when we are tired. This is very interesting to know for your next night and may help you make a better meal choice.

Tip – Bring smaller containers to work with snacks like trail mix nuts insteaad of the whole pack as the temptation is there to keep eating.

These glass containers are great as they don’t smell, warp and you can always see inside in comparison to plastic. Here is why we like glass best!

Remember though, you don’t have to eat overnight if you don’t feel like it – even if it’s a long shift. Your body is not used to receiving food when the sun is not shining so don’t feel you need to force it. If you are a bit peakish, digestible snacks are best rather than a big meal. Here are some snack ideas, frozen meal ideas, and here are some snack suggestions for our vegan friends.

Finding comfort in food and eating when you’re not hungry is a slippery slope toward obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. On the flip side, not eating due to stress puts you at risk of chronic fatigue, anemia, and even bone fractures. It’s a tricky balance but I know you can find it.

Also, you may be surprised to learn that where you eat and who you dine with can impact your health. Both the environment of your meal time and the company you keep influence your mood, stress levels and food choice.

In the company of healthy people making good food choices like drinking SuperGreen TONIK (our favorite Greens powder), you may not buy the chips or cookies. However, if your colleagues are getting a pizza delivery to work, you’ll probably say… yes!

If you’re interested in diving more into stress-related health issues specifically felt by night shift workers, the highlighted post is for you.

Whenever possible, choose to eat where you are able to relax and enjoy your food. Pick a location that offers a quiet and peaceful spot to forget about the day’s worries. Even better if you’re able to dine somewhere with a view of a body of water (aluminated by the night lights) and fresh outdoor air. This may be hard when working overnight as the tearoom may not be overly inviting, so consider your car if it’s not parked too far away.

Evaluate Your Eating Habits By Asking Yourself: Do I see a problem with how I eat? If you do consider the following;
When am I eating? Refer to this video guidance
What am I eating? This post will help guide you through some ideas
How much am I eating? Are you overeating because you’re bored? Dehydration can play a big part. Here are some beverages to excite those taste buds.
Or are you undereating because you feel sick? Acid reflux could be why and we explain more here.

If you’re confused about when and what to eat on night shift and the reasons behind why it really matters, this book is brilliant. It’s called “Too Tired to Cook” by Audry Starky a fellow night shift worker. It’s available on Amazon and is worth its weight in gold.

Are Your Active Enough During and Around Your Night Shift?

Questions to ponder as you read:
– Am I moving every day? (Walking, stretching, pushing myself physically?)
– Why haven’t I been able to exercise as much as I want to? What’s stopping me?

– When I don’t exercise daily, how does it make me feel? Can I sleep as well as if I did?

As most of us know, staying active helps you maintain your physical and mental well-being. But actually bringing these thoughts to fruition is much harder than first thought, but it doesn’t mean we should give up.

Physical activity triggers the release of energizing endorphins and mood-stabilizing hormones. Starting your day (by this we mean before your shift) with a quick high-intensity exercise routine will get your heart pumping, oxygen flowing, and your mind alert. Just ten minutes of a fast-paced workout gets you hours of positive feelings and a natural boost of energy from adrenaline.

If exercise has been your nemesis, we want to help and have a few resources for you.
Video – Best Time To Exercise When Working Night Shift and Going to the Gym After Night Shift. Good Idea?
Blog post – What’s the Best Exercise Workout Routine for Shift Workers?

As a quick exercise tip. I leave my clean workout clothes on the floor, at the door to my bedroom, so I am forced to stand over them after I wake from a night shift. Though I can simply walk over them, the visual prompt is a simple but powerful reminder to change into these clothes and just get it done.

When it comes time to winding down post-shift, consider taking things slow with a meditative yoga or Tai Chi session. Leisurely-paced posturing and movement give you a chance to focus on your breathing and clear your mind. Other exercises to quiet your mind and body include Pilates and qigong work well too. Personally, I follow Yoga With Adrienne on YouTube as I like her pace and positive attitude.

These types of exercise will help you relax your muscles in preparation for sleep. They’ll reduce your stress hormones by replacing them with higher dopamine levels. In addition, stress-reducing exercise releases the important chemical messenger, oxytocin. (source)

Known as the love hormone, oxytocin has an important job to do that affects human behavior. It plays a role in how you bond with others and your ability to trust. Oxytocin creates that same warm and fuzzy feeling you experience when you’re with someone you care about.(source)

By taking advantage of the natural responses your body has to physical movement, you’ll feel better inside and out. You’ll be more prepared to face the day and get through the night. Moreover, your mind will be more at peace, making it easier to think quickly and respond when it matters most.

Lastly, have you considered a pet to help get you moving? They can provide the mental stimulation and relief you’re looking for. Here are the, Best Pets For Shift Workers, That Don’t Crave Your Attention

Evaluate Your Activity Level By Asking Yourself:
What are my physical fitness goals and am I meeting them? Are they reachable?
What types of exercise do I need to do to meet those goals? How often am I exercising? (Before, during or after a shift and which time works best with my family?)
What are my mental fitness goals? Will meditation/yoga/pilates/journalling help me reach these goals?
This guide for shift workers will help get the ideas going

How’s Your Sleep on Night Shift?

Questions to ponder as you read:
– How much sleep am I getting when working night shift?
– Do I wake up feeling refreshed or tired?
– What are some of the reasons I am waking up during the day? (light, noise, discomfort, stress etc?)

– What can I do to reduce the occurrence/impact of these disruptions?

When was the last time you felt refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to face whatever comes your way during a run of night shifts? We know getting enough sleep during the day isn’t easy but it’s worth fighting for so it can make the necessary repairs it needs. So what can you do?


Your sleeping environment should have a limited amount of light. Your circadian clock runs in alignment with the sun’s energizing power. As a night shift worker, you have to trick your mind and body into believing the sun’s down when clearly it isn’t. Here are some excellent sleep aids to help design your dark cave.


The amount and type of food and beverages consumed prior to sleep can have a big impact on your sleeping success. Take a look at what you are consuming in particular caffeine, acidic foods, alcohol, gluten, lactose, etc and see what may be upsetting your tummy and sleep routine.

Here’s why a morning beer may be playing havoc with your sleep, unfortunately.

Temperature and Noise

Creating the perfect sleeping chamber includes making the room the ideal temperature for inducing restful sleep. Finding the right level of noise and absence of distractions is also essential for you to be able to fall asleep fast and stay asleep. Most importantly, you should have a comfortable bed and pillow (this is one of our favorites) that provides your body with the support it needs.

These eye masks from Manta Sleep and Swanwick Sleep are staple items in our house.

Are you confused about all the bits and pieces to consider when creating a sleep environment? This guide will help.

The Ultimate
Sleep Guide

Counting sheep is so 90’s! Get stuck into some strategies which actually work for shift workers!

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    Evaluate Your Sleep By Asking Yourself:
    What changes can I make to get deeper more restorative sleep?

    Here are a few of my favorite sleeping aids to get you off to a fresh start.

    Are You Happy? Mental Health Inventory

    Questions to ponder as you read:
    – How do I feel today?
    – What improves my mood?
    – Which parts of working night shift cause stress, sadness, and anger? (If any)
    – Am I experiencing any hair loss (which could be a sign of stress?)

    Your mental well-being steers you through life. When all’s well in Emotionville, your world runs smoothly. But when facing the storms in the Sea of Living, you may find yourself desperately searching for a lifeboat you can’t seem to find.

    Life as a night shift worker typically falls into one of two scenarios, high-stress, anxiety-laden, and emotionally exhausting or mind-numbing boredom. In either case, your mental health could be in jeopardy. That’s why it’s imperative to check in on yourself regularly.

    Additionally, your night shift life puts constant disruption to your natural clock. Your body has preprogrammed assignments that occur at designated times. Specific hormones and neurotransmitters are designed to be released like clockwork. But when your work clock doesn’t align with your circadian clock, the chemistry experiment is at risk of exploding. (source)

    In other words, your emotional health can become unstable. For some people, this can lead to depression or other mood disorders. Left unchecked, you may begin to feel burnout at work or experience a negative impact at home. (Not sure if you’re burnout? This post will guide you through these thoughts).

    Taking time for yourself each day to decompress from the stressors of work will benefit your mental health. Making a window of time to let go of your worries and refocus your mind can help restore the chemical imbalance in your brain. This could be just a few minutes a day.

    Most importantly, find someone you can talk to when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the weight of the burdens you’re carrying. Related post you may enjoy, Leaving Your Job After Burnout: What Comes Next?

    Evaluate Your Mental Health By Asking Yourself:
    How do I feel when I think about my job? What am I feeling when I’m at home?
    Are there any stressors I need to address?
    How am I dealing with the stressors I face?
    Who do I have in my corner when I feel like throwing in the towel?

    Evaluate Your Environments

    Questions to ponder as you read:
    – Do you look forward to going home?
    – When leaving a conversation with close friends and family members, how do you feel? Are there people in particular you overanalyze?

    Once you’ve taken time to reflect on your physical and mental well-being it’s time to examine your home and work environments. The ambiance of your home and the atmosphere at work impact your ability to be the best you. Everything from how much natural light you get to how well-organized you keep your spaces affects your overall well-being.

    Imagine you’ve finished your shift and you’re heading home. Do you look forward to opening that door once you’ve arrived? What awaits you on the other side?

    Your home should bring you peace of mind after a long shift at work. It should provide for your needs and keep you safe. Home should be a place where you feel comfortable and content.

    Colors evoke emotions, so your home’s palette and decor need to elicit positive energy from you. Decorate in such a way that you’re able to benefit from the zen you create. Choose hues that accentuate the mood of a room, be it the family room, kitchen, or bath.

    Organize your home in order to maximize the time you spend there. Your long shifts at work and commute take a big chunk out of your day. Make the best of your time at home through efficiency and routine. For example, here is how we create the ultimate bedside oasis.

    Now, picture you’re heading to work. Are you excited or in dread of what awaits you there? Do you feel like you’re part of something or just filling up space?

    Your workplace needn’t be your second home. But it doesn’t have to be completely void of your personality. Your night shift job should be a place you want to go without the risk of it completely absorbing who you are outside of work.

    Finding a way to bring a taste of home to work can be a bit trickier for you as a night shift worker. For example, your workstation may not be yours alone. In that case, rearranging the contents of cabinets and drawers to fit your style may not be ideal.

    If your job doesn’t come with the luxury of personal space like a desk or locker, consider other ways you can bring a little touch of home to work. For those who drive to work or even for work, you could keep a memento or picture in the vehicle. Your emotions are tied to memories and a quick glance at a family photo or vacation souvenir could be the trick that turns the feelings tide during a rough day on the job.

    When possible, consider using scents and colors to bring the upbeat vibe of home into your work world. You may not be able to paint the walls and hang new blinds, but can you hang artwork in the halls? Are plants something you can add to enhance the atmosphere with genuine life or even faux flora?

    Be careful when using scent to make your workplace feel more like home. Depending on where you work, like a hospital, this could be a hazardous situation. Plus, not everyone loves the smell of pumpkin spice even if it is “that time of year”.

    If you can’t physically alter your environment, consider the people you are choosing to be around when you are at work, and even during your days off. Ask yourself how you feel when these people leave the area you shared. Do you feel happy? Worried you said the wrong thing? Angry? Over analyzing the conversation? These people have a powerful impact on how you feel and your outlook on work.

    Evaluate Your Environments By Asking Yourself:
    What am I feeling when I think about;
    Going Home?
    Heading to Work?
    What are the positive aspects of home and work? Can I make improvements to make it a happier place? What unchangeable situations do I need to cope with at home and at work?

    Other posts you may enjoy;

    Adjust Your Routine

    Questions to ponder as you read:
    – Do I have a routine? If not, why? If yes, does it work for me?

    In his book Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey wrote “Create structure so you can have freedom.” Your goal when building a routine is to design an efficient system that ensures everything gets taken care of with time left over to enjoy being you. You have to map out your days and follow your plan otherwise time gets away from you or things get forgotten.

    Working the night shift puts a spin on building a routine.

    You have to schedule things differently when you’re trying to sleep during “regular business” hours or heading to work while your kid’s on stage for the opening night of the school play. Creating a well-structured daily routine improves the odds of accomplishing all your short and long-term goals.

    Need to lose a few pounds? Adjust your diet and exercise routines. Wanting to learn a new skill? Set aside time each day for some reading or online coursework.

    Oftentimes we find ourselves saying, “I’d love to do ________ if only I had more time to do it.” But when you change your priorities and block out time accordingly, you may find you have more time than you realized. Adjusting your routine sometimes means changing your attitude about what you should be doing with your time.

    Just because you work night shift doesn’t make progression and learning impossible.

    Adjust Your Routine By Asking Yourself:
    Am I meeting my daily needs for my physical well-being?
    Am I meeting my daily needs for my mental well-being?
    What changes do I need to make at home to improve my routine? What changes do I need to make at work to improve my routine? What are my short-term goals and the steps to reach them?
    What are my long-term goals and the steps to reach them?

    Talking about routine, here is one for those working a rotating shift work schedule.

    Taking care of yourself when working night shift is a full-time job. How much effort you put into your well-being will make all the difference in your results (and the effects night shift can have on you). When you feel lost or out of step, take some time to assess your situation fully.

    Once you have a clear picture of where you are, you’ll be better equipped to map out where you need to get. And with a definitive direction of travel laid out, you’re more apt to reach the goals you set your sights upon.

    If you’re a busy mom working the night shift who needs a helping hand, we are here for you. Check out this post next.

    If you’re not a mom and starting to wonder if the night shift is worth the extra money, this post can help you explore this idea in your head.


    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.

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    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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