How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks

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It is safe to say I have a love/hate relationship with working the night shift. But for me, and likely most of you, they are not going anywhere in a hurry. So we need to have a few tricks up our sleeve to make the night shift schedule somewhat of a blissful reality.

Strawberries | How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks

Throughout our website, we speak A LOT about night shift and how to avoid feeling like a complete zombie. We have covered how to prepare like a boss (click to read – How to Best Prepare for Night Shift and Stay Healthy), what to eat and when (again, click to here to view) and how to sleep during the day (see how we do it here).

But we haven’t spoken in length about what to do when you’re actually at work to be the best version of yourself. So this post will do just that. Read on to discover 9 night shift tips and tricks you must-try during your next graveyard shift.

1. Keep the Light on in Your Direct Working Area

It’s tempting to turn off the light when working night shift (environment dependent), but try and resist the temptation.

The seemly annoying light stimulus continually tells your body and sleep hormones, like melatonin, to stay awake. Which is what we want…

If you’re thinking it’s a mild form of torture you’re absolutely right… (constant light was used as a torture method at Alkatraz in San Fran Cisco for bad prisoners), but it can be very effective in the short term to prevent you from falling asleep on the job.

I find the tea room lights are always switched off, which seems lovely at first, but a killer when you need to resume work later on.

Long story short – light on.

If you want to learn more about melatonin and the role it plays in sleep, take a look at the following posts. This knowledge has totally changed my sleeping routine after a night shift for the better.

2. Stay Hydrated

Drinking water may seem really basic but is often something I forget about when the shift gets busy.

Simply drinking enough water prevents dehydration, lethargy and headaches by keeping your organs happy so they don’t need to work harder than they have to.

But how much water should you drink overnight?

As a general rule women should be consuming approximately 91 ounces (2.7 liters) of total water and men approximately 125 ounces daily (3.7 liters).

If you’re not a big water drinker it could seem like a lot, so why not try adding some mint leaves or lemon juice to your bottle to enhance the flavor? 

I have the MIRA Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Water BottleOpens in a new tab. because it has a nice sized mouth opening (so I don’t spill it!) and colors are pretty, plus it keeps my water cold for the whole shift. See it on Amazon here for a very reasonable price.

Place your drink bottle in a location you can actually see as a constant reminder to drink. Don’t hide it inside a cupboard or behind a stack of books or paper.

On our shift work tools page, we explore our favorite tumbler, the BEAST and also our top choice of water bottles, which infuse fruits into the water hassle-free.

We also talk a bunch more about the best shift work products we highly suggest. Click the image below to check it out.

Bored With Water?

Dan and I were very interested to explore different ways we can stay hydrated on nights without simply drinking water because sometimes I just need to change things up.

So after lots of research, we wrote this post titled, What Should I Drink on Night Shift? 10 Energy Boosting Beverages which explores 10 different options of what to drink on nights.

Yes, one of those is water but there are 9 other suggestions to keep your taste buds excited, preventing you from getting sleepy.

But what if I really hate drinking water?

Well, try eating hydrating foods like the ones listed below. While not quite as effective, it’s better than nothing in staying hydrated.

  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries
  • Rockmelon
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
Strawberry punnet | How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks

3. If You’re Hungry Eat Snacks, Not a Single Big Meal

Eating on the night shift is a very interesting topic of discussion.

When should I eat and what should I eat? Is there is a wrong and right time?

For SO many years I was thinking I was doing the “right thing” in eating a “second dinner” or large meal, generally leftovers, at around 3am. But it seems, from recent research, that eating multiple snacks was actually a better plan of attack.

It’s nicer on our digestive system and organs responsible for breaking down our food. Plus, we are less likely to feel reflux and nausea.

Here is a list of snacks to fill your lunch box with:

  • Hummus with raw veggie sticks (carrots, snow peas, red peppers and hummus)
  • Almonds
  • Banana and bread. Toast the bread and cut up the banana on top for a delicious snack!
  • Tuna and crackers
  • Green juice – See our favorite green juice here.
  • Fruit and nuts
  • Granola and Greek yogurt
  • Boiled eggs (already peeled to save time on your break)
  • Celery and peanut butter
  • Soup (again to help with hydration)
  • Small servings of slow-cooked casseroles

I could keep going, but we wrote multiple posts with a lot more suggestions I encourage you to check out:

You might notice that a lot of foods and snacks we recommend are high in protein.

This is because they give you sustained energy throughout the night and are nicer on our “resting” digestive system. This means there is not such a dramatic change to our insulin production to break down the food.

So yes, the leftover pizza or fresh pasta can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable, so stay away from these foods between 11pm and 7am.

“We have to remind ourselves that we are human beings and have evolved to be awake during the day and asleep at night…. no matter how hard we try we cannot beat our biology.”

Soup | How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks

We wrote two other posts about eating on night shift, which we welcome you to check out for more information and why the timing of when we eat matters. Research constantly evolves in this space so I learned a few vital lessons too!

What About Intermittent Fasting?

Until recently I didn’t know much about intermittent fasting, so I wrote an entire post to teach myself and you guys more about it and how we can use it as night shift workers.

It’s called Should I Eat on Night Shift? Why Intermittent Fasting Works and it’s worth a read if you want to learn more.

In a nutshell, fasting can be incredibly effective for night shift workers to lose weight and not overwhelm the digestive system, which is not programmed to receive food overnight.

Read more here…

We also wrote an article about the keto diet and night shift workers. If you’re interested in this method for weight loss you’ll probably learn a thing or two from our post, as not many other websites specifically talk about 3rd shift and this kind of diet. It was fun to put together.

Check it out here – Graveyard Weight Loss: Shift Workers Guide to the Keto Diet

4. Don’t Sit Still on Night Shift

One of the absolute keys to working night shift is to keep the blood pumping. Don’t sit still watching the clock – Again, it’s torture

Bring in a foam roller and stretch those sore bits (environment permitting), set a timer to get up from your desk every hour or walk the flight of stairs at the office (again, if available).

Make sure you limit the time you spend sitting in one place as you will become increasingly tired and less productive as the night goes on.

Watch the ‘danger zones’ between 2am and 4am when the fatigue really sets in. 

As a nurse, I find restocking medical supplies and calibrating blood sugar machines surprisingly satisfying and works a treat.

Find something in your area that always need attention and make that part of your nightly routine.

We wrote a post titled, Bored on Night Shift? How to Stay Busy Without the Internet which is full of suggestions if you need some inspiration.

Man sitting at computer desk stretching | How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks

5. Be Sociable Overnight

The relationships built during overnight shifts are pretty special because there is nobody else who truly appreciates how hard some nights can be.

There are limited resources and management around to support you, so naturally, you need to work together to get jobs done.

This is the part of night shift I enjoy the most; catching up with new and old friends, having a laugh and understanding I am not the only one struggling to stay awake.

I understand your work colleagues may not be your “friends of choice” but unfortunately, you can’t be choosy and need to make the best of the situation you’re in.

Related post: 7 Essential Night Shift Tips: Making the Impossible a Reality

6. Know When to Stop Drinking Caffeine

How many coffees have you had today?

Caffeine is brilliant for keeping us motivated and alert throughout the night. Plus, it’s loaded with health benefits such as reducing our risk of Type 2 Diabetes (2). But if drunk 5 -6 hours before bed, it can have negative effects on your quality of sleep.

Why does this happen?

Well, coffee can stay in our system for up to 12 hours making sleep almost impossible (for most people) once you get home.

Unfortunately, this does include all the things we love:

  • Soda
  • Energy drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Hot chocolate
  • Tea (some herbal teas for caffeine-free)

But you’re probably saying to yourself, how do I survive the night shift without coffee?

Well, a glass of ice-cold water works a treat for me, but we have a whole list of other beverages you need to give a whirl here that will help you survive.

Related post: Night Shift and Caffeine. How To Use It Wisely

Coffee | How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks

7. Nap Smart

Nursing has really taught me the benefits of having a “nana nap” at pretty much any opportunity I can.

And whilst naps are wonderful, they can be a curse too.

I recently wrote a post titled, Should You Nap During Night Shift? which opened my eyes to what a nap should really look like. Click on the image to take a look.

The bottom line with taking a nap on night shift is that it should be between 10-20 minutes long OR 90 minutes… nothing in between.

While the world won’t cave in and smother you if you have a nap of say 50 minutes, you might feel groggy and disoriented for up to an hour. This is called sleep inertia and is basically caused by disrupting a cycle of sleep mid-way through.

Avoid this horrible feeling by keeping it short, or making it long (if you have the time and luxury). Use an alarm clock on your mobile phone or one of the specialized night shift alarm clocks we reviewed here to make sure you don’t oversleep.

Have you heard of a coffee nap?

I know it sounds odd, but using coffee to enhance your sleep/nap is possible and can actually be really effective when feeling tired. Find out more here. 

8. Don’t Skip Your Break

I have skipped my break on night shift more than a few times because the unit was absolutely horrible. But I can tell you, I was no good to anybody.

You are not a “hero” because you skipped your break and worked harder. I know you want to be a team player when the chips are down, but the reality is you need to rest, eat, drink and use the bathroom – even for a couple of minutes to reboot your energy stores.

This reduces errors, minimizes fatigue and stops you from becoming sick from overworking yourself.

Plus, your boss is taking out your break time from your pay anyway!

Coordinate your break with your fellow colleagues and get away from your desk or the direct working environment.

Enjoy your home-cooked food surrounded by your workmates in a separate space such as the tea room or separate “hang out space” if available. This is a great time to catch up and also importantly allows your brain to rest and reset.

We are not invincible to fatigue as much we want to fight it.

We recently wrote an article titled, Shift Work Burnout: Causes, Red Flags and How to Beat It​ which I think is very timely right about now.

9. Be Prepared for the Night Shift Chill

No, you are not going nuts. The 3am chills are real.

Our bodies naturally cool down to persevere energy, basically going into hibernation mode for the night.

The reason for this tip is to bring a jacket/sweater/vest and be prepared to feel cooler around 3-4am… The good news is, it won’t happen when you least expect it!

View from helicopter | How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks


Summary: How to Handle Working Overnight. 9 Night Shift Tips and Tricks

A healthy body and mind are absolutely possible on night shift.

Dan and I love the camaraderie between workmates on 3rd shift. It quickly develops when there are limited staff and resources available to ask for help. Everyone knows the night shift feeling, so you can always relate to the person next to you.

Night shift can be a challenge but if you remain positive and work together with your colleagues, you can own your schedule and make it work for you.


Emma signature |

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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