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“I just don’t know how you can work the night – I could never do it!”
When starting my nursing career all those years ago, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think nights were impossible and just not right! If you’re new to the industry or thinking about going into it, you’ll also think the same at some point too. And even though we are working against the bodies natural construction, it is possible to thrive on this shift and we want to show you how with a few helpful hints.
Our essential night shift tips consist of; eat healthy and sustainable foods, find a coffee alternative, keep busy, nap when tired, create the perfect sleep space, set boundaries for yourself and find time for what makes you happy.
We want you to show the average person, who thinks overnight work is impossible, that you can enjoy and thrive on the graveyard shift. Throughout this post, we will give you 7 of our best tips to being an energetic, happy and productive night shift worker who still manages to have balance across the workplace and your social life.
This post is not just about what to do during a shift but rather focuses on each layer of night shifts, so make sure you stick with us right to the end.
This schedule IS possible once you know where to start!
1. Be Ready to Drink Something Other Than Coffee
Does caffeine fuel your body too?
If you were to take blood samples of 10,000 shift workers, I bet you’ll find caffeine in pretty much 100% of them.
Why? Well, because it is a delicious stimulant first and foremost. But it also comes with a whole bunch of health benefits and is used to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, gallstones, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. (source)
So why can’t we drink it ALL the time?
There are a few reasons:
- The caffeine inside a coffee can linger in our system for up to 12 hours. And, as you might be thinking, this can impact your sleep leading to insomnia in some shift workers.
- The caffeine inside coffee and even tea is what’s called a diuretic and this stuff makes you pee – a lot. Interestingly, according to Myoclinc, they said this generally won’t cause dehydration when consumed in moderation.
- Caffeinated drinks can cause headaches in some people when not enough water is had.
- According to research, drinking in excess of 6 cups per day might cause “caffeinism.” I didn’t know there was a specific word for it, but this is where you might start feeling anxious, agitated, nervous, restlessness and suffer from uncomfortable stomach aches. (source)
So What Can We Drink Instead While on 3rd Shift?
Depending on the shift you are on, count backward 5-6 hours from when you need to sleep. This is the time you need to put down the cup of joe and switch to one of the following (for most around midnight is a good time to stop):
- Plain old water. The cheapest, most accessible option to the majority.
- Water infused with fruit like lemon, mint leaves, lime, strawberries and orange. Here is our favorite drink bottle to make this happen without dealing with the pips.
- Herbal tea such as peppermint or green tea (just keep in mind most of these teas DO contain caffeine but in less quantity compared to coffee so drink with caution in regards to timing.
- Decaffeinated coffee and tea
- Coconut water
We have an entire post dedicated to energy-boosting drinks titled, What Should I Drink on Night Shift? 10 Energy Boosting Beverages which we highly recommend you check out.
2. Eat Healthy, Sustainable Energy-Boosting Food
When we are tired, our special appetite hormones send the most bizarre messages to our brains. One of these silly messages is saying we are hungry when we actually aren’t. This increases our cravings for high sugar, processed foods for a quick energy hit.
And guess what this leads to? Yep, you guessed it – weight gain, nausea, bloating and overeating!
We chat a lot more about what happens when we are tired and explain in detail about these sleep hormones in the post titled, Is Night Shift Bad for You? 11 Truths Uncovered, which I encourage you to check out. I learned a lot putting this bad boy together!
So, to overcome this eating, fatigue dilemma you must bring your own filling, healthy, nutritious snacks to every shift to make the vending machines and the open packet of chips feel less appealing.
High protein foods such as those listed below should give you the filling boost you need.
- Eggs (hard-boiled, devilled or curry egg sandwiches work well)
- Quinoa (Mixed with tuna, tomato and spinach make a delicious salad)
- Yogurt with warmed oats and heated berries
- Dark chocolate
- Sweet Potato (sweet potato chips pre-prepared with some shredded, slow-cooked chicken mixed with a green salad is a delightful pre-night shift meal)
- Hummus with raw veggies such as carrot and celery
- Green juice (check out our shift work tools page to find out what green juice is all about.
But before you dive into your lunch box during a shift, there are a few tricks you need to know, which I learned WAY to late, about when to actually eat.
Our digestive system, in particular our pancreas, changes in the way it works overnight.
This means how our food is normally broken down in the night time is VERY different from how it’s digested during the day.
If we eat the wrong foods at the wrong time we are at a higher risk of diabetes and other chronic health issues you want to avoid.
We thought this topic is not mentioned anywhere near enough, so we wrote an entire post titled, When Should I Eat on Night Shift? It gives you a very clear guide on when to eat and why food timing is important.
Here are a couple of other related posts about when and what to eat on nights:
- Snacks: 10 Healthy Snacks Ideal for Hungry Night Shift Workers
- Prepare for night shift: How To Best Prepare for the Night Shift and Stay Healthy
- Best practices: 9 Shift Work Best Practices You’re Probably Not Doing
3. Stay Busy
If you are new to the night shift game, you might be surprised at how differently things run overnight.
While the pace can be quick at the beginning of a shift, the environment quickly changes.
By about 4am or even earlier in some professions, there could be minimal people around and the place can be deathly quiet.
It’s at these moments you need to stay busy before you fall asleep.
Your body is desperate for sleep and you WILL start to feel chills as your body is trying to tell you to go to bed – so bring a sweater.
It’s at this time your body also craves sugary foods to give you an energy hit which you need to ignore or eat the food suggestions we gave earlier.
But we don’t want you staying busy just with eating. So here are a few other ideas:
- Re-stock your office and workplace with supplies while listening to a podcast
- Check your work again to ensure you haven’t made mistakes
- Complete an office workout
- Talk to your colleagues
- Take a nap
When working in the ER, I don’t experience too many of these boring moments, but I know it’s pretty common in other night shift workplaces.
So I wrote an entire post titled, Bored on Night Shift? How to Stay Busy Without the Internet which has some great suggestions to pass the time.
Keep the light on…While working overnight, keep the light on in your direct working area. This prevents your sleep hormones from working meaning you are effectly making yourself less primed for sleep.
4. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Naps
If you are new to the night shift world, naps will save your butt.
Research has really done us a few favors recently, concluding that naps, even super short ones of 10 – 30 minutes can give us a boost lasting up to three hours. (source)
BUT if you sleep for any more than 30 minutes you will wake up feeling really average suffering from drowsiness and disorientation which is what doctors call “sleep inertia.”(source)
Keeping that in mind, here are some times within your night shift schedule you could consider a 10-30 minute shut-eye.
Before A Night Shift
This nap should really be more like a big sleep.
Before your first night shift and depending on how you prepare, which you can read about here, we recommend cleaning the house, exercising, showering, enjoying some lunch then popping into bed for about 3-5 hours to get some shut eye before the night ahead.
On Your Break at Work
How long is your break on a night shift? x2 30 minutes breaks? 1 hour? However long your breaks are configured, can you eat for half of it and nap for the other half if you’re feeling drowsy?
In this post, we chat about sleeping on night shift and how to get it done.
Driving After a Night Shift
Before you shift the stick into drive ask yourself, am I safe to drive without a nap?
Read How to Stop Falling Asleep While Driving after Night Shift for some tips and tricks on getting home safely.
When Transitioning Back to the Day Shift
This adjustment can be brutal so look after yourself by taking strategic naps.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to “bank sleep” and use it for later, so utilizing something like a coffee nap, which we chat about here, could come in super handy.
Here is a popular guide we wrote on how to transition to the day shift from night shift. It also comes in a video, so feel free to check it out below.
- No sleep: 8 Useful Hacks for Surviving Night Shift With No Sleep
- Eye maks: Top Selling Eye Masks for Sleeping For Total Block-Out
- Not tired: How to Fall Asleep Quickly Even When You’re Not Tired
- Book lights: 5 Best Reading Book Lights That Will Help You Sleep
5. Set Boundaries for Yourself and Control What You Can
I mentioned in the title that most “average” people think that night shift is impossible.
They say things like, “I just couldn’t possibly sleep during the day and be up all night”. If it’s a requirement for your job, I’m sure they most likely could.
I think what sets the healthier, happier night shift workers apart from the ones which are not having a good experience is two things.
- Ability to set a high standard for yourself in and around your shifts
- Obeying the rules you set for yourself to live a healthy life
If you are able to have some self-control in particular areas, such as the ones we explore below, it will have a HUGE impact on your health as a night shift worker and personally, how much you enjoy your job.
Getting Enough Sleep
Being strict with yourself to making sleep a priority every day. Your aim should be 7-9 hours. For some, this is incredibly hard so it’s okay to break this up into parts if you can get back to sleep easily.
In tip #7 we chat about the different tools you can use to make sure you do actually fall to sleep once you throw on your PJ’s and snuggle on the couch for a nap.
Sticking to a Routine
Normally the word routine and shift work don’t belong together, but you need to try and establish a sleep-wake routine.
Try and go to sleep within 30 minutes-1 hour of getting home from a shift and within 2 hours of your shift finishing. This is all relative to your commute time, but you get the idea that sleep timing is important.
Allow your brain to make connections between sleep and particular behaviors you do. Perform these things every single morning after finishing nights.
Take a look at Secrets To The Perfect Post Night Shift Routine here.
Avoiding alcohol and caffeine after a shift, just before you need to sleep, is also something worth mentioning. Leave these beverages to your days off or at a more appropriate time.
- Breakfast: 6 Quick and Healthy Night Shift Breakfast Meal Ideas
- After nights: What Should I Eat After Working Night Shift?
Eating Foods Which Give Your Body the Fuel It Needs to Perform the Task.
You wouldn’t put diesel gas in an unleaded car and expect it to work so you can’t expect your body to perform well on only processed, high sugar foods without any veggies or fruit.
This is true for any meal pre, during and post a shift. Don’t allow yourself to throw only highly sugar-filled foods and drinks into the shopping cart. Remember, if you buy it, you’ll eat it!
If you said to yourself you’re going to complete a home workout once you get up, you have to do it.
You can’t cut corners with yourself if you want to avoid some of the health implications related to night shift we explore here.
Increasing the Amount of Water You Drink Each and Every Day
We touched on this earlier, but we cannot rely solely on soda, coffee and energy drinks for our energy boost if you want to stay healthy and not get sick.
We need to drink about 2L every day to keep our organs happy and stop dehydration.
I find when working nights, drinking a big, ice-cold glass of water when I’m feeling tired really lifts me up again.
Staying in Control of Your Roster
Manipulating the amount and length of night shifts you work at one given time is huge.
Completing a run of nights seemed better for me rather than a single night more often. But if you are new to nights you will find a routine which works best for you.
The bottom line though is to take control of your roster if you have the ability to.
Here are some roster posts we previously published I recommend you check out. They give you a lot of information about how to structure your roster and tricks to look out for.
- Rotating roster: Essential Guide to Working a Rotating Shift Schedule
- Roster tips: Your Shift Roster is the Most Powerful Tool you have as a Shift Worker
- Scheduling tips: Best Shift Work Roster Scheduling Tips
- Shift work calender: 10 Best Shift Work Calendar Apps to Stop You Missing Out
In order to not feel like a complete zombie, I believe you need to focus on the areas of this list you can personally do better.
If that’s not eating a supersized packet of chips on the way home in the car because you’ve got the munchies then great. If it’s trying to decrease your 10 coffees a day to 5 then that’s an excellent start.
We are all different in how we approach night shift, but you need to be disciplined in whatever you decide will help you have a more enjoyable working experience.
- Exercise: Sleep or Workout? What Should I Do After Night Shift?
- Fitness: How to Stay Fit While Working Nights: 12 Sneaky Tips
- Weight gain: Does Shift Work Make You Fat? 14 Tips to Avoid Weight Gain
Be carb selective on night shiftNot all carbs are bad on night shift. Sweet potato, some grainy whole-wheat breads and certain veggies are full of healthy carbs. Just be careful of the processed types which come from a packet.
6. Make Time for the Things Which Make You Happy
It’s SO EASY to get caught in the eat – sleep – work – eat – sleep – work cycle. I have been there too many times and it’s a dark place creating an even darker mood and outlook on life for a few days.
Here’s how to stay out of this rut:
Book in to see your friends either between nights (even if you need to wear your uniform out to dinner) OR plan for a catch up with them after you’ve completed the run of nights.
If the timing for sharing a meal together doesn’t work out, can you call them or utilize video calls during your commute to work?
*Side note – just for my new nursing friends. There is probably a lot you need to get off your chest and debrief about, especially when you’ve just started nights.
Make sure you don’t hold all this stuff in and talk about what’s bothering you. Here are some nursing posts you’ll love which will also help boost your confidence through the early stages or working full time.
- Feeling Incompetent: Being a New Nurse is Hard. How to Stop Feeling Incompetent
- Need confidence? Advice for New Grad Nurses: How to Stop Feeling Like an Idiot
- Tips to stop getting sick: Always Sick as a New Nurse? 10 Tricks to Beat The Blues
Enjoy Meals With People You Love
Have dinner with your family/housemates at the dining table without the TV on or phones in sight. Really listen, laugh, have a joke and hear what everyone has been up to. I think this helps to make you feel less disconnected.
Just as a side note, you may need to alter when you wake up to make this meal happen but I think it’s totally worth it for your mental health and relationships.
While this might not be something you love to do, it creates a lot of happiness for your brain and body so it deserves a place on this list.
Exercise strengthens your heart and improves your circulation, whilst also helping lower the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. (source)
But even when hearing that it doesn’t make exercise any easier to achieve on nights, right?
So what do I use and love to make exercise happen: Jump rope
I love this method because it’s quick and effective. I don’t have the time or the stamina for anything else on 3rd shfit! If you want to know more about jump rope click here.
Here are some related post to exercising on night shift I think you’ll enjoy:
- Excuses: 5 Tips to Solve Your Crazy Shift Work Exercise Excuses
- No time: Top 5 Exercise Tips For The Time Poor Shift Worker
- Home gym: 15 Key Reasons For Shift Workers To Ditch The Gym and Start Exercising At Home
Get out in the Sunshine Each an Every Afternoon
While we don’t like the sun before we sleep, we need it in the afternoon. Our bones and cells crave the vitamin D and so does our body clock when it’s trying to “reset.”
Open the blinds, go walk your dog, stroll around the block with your kids or with an interesting podcast in your ears and absorb that sunshine on your skin.
Related posts: Owning a Dog as a Shift Worker: Clever Tips to Make It Work
Make Time for Your Hobbies
Hobby might not be the right word, but you need to make time for the little things you love to do. Cooking, swimming, doing puzzles, listening to your favorite daily podcast, making candles, playing the piano… anything!
Even spending 30 minutes every day on something which makes you feel alive is huge for your mental health.
7. Create the Perfect Bedroom
Create a bedroom which feels like the most luxurious hotel you’ve ever been too or dreamt about. If you can even organise the butler who ties your shoes every morning, good on you!
Your aim is to create an environment you are excited to sleep in every morning you arrive home.
One which doesn’t stress you out and allows you to wind down peacefully without getting annoyed is your aim…
Here is where I recommend focusing your time on the next few days off:
Blocking out as Much Light as Possible, Striving for 100% Total Darkness
Our sleep hormone melatonin is obsessed with darkness and it cannot work properly when there is any detection of light.
So, we recommend using these black out blinds on our shift work tools page.
The two varieties are very reasonably priced and make a HUGE difference to your sleep quality. Plus, you don’t have to be super handy to install them either!
- Medications: Insomnia and Shift Work Sleep Disorder Medication Review
- Melatonin: My Top Tip for Taking Melatonin on Night Shift: Plus 10 More
- Can’t sleep: Can’t Sleep After Night Shift? 13 Weird Tips That Actually Work
You might not be aware but our body naturally cools when we sleep. For the average 9-5 worker, this is at 4am in the morning (and why we feel chills at this time of night) but for us, it’s in the middle of the day when we sleep.
Your body is already working super hard to find a new “normal” so make sure your room is nice and cool to not increase the workload of your body.
Think fans, ducted air-conditioners or portable air conditioners to help decrease the temperature, particularly during the summer months…
We wrote a post about our favorite must-have sleep aids here which give you our recommendations for these items.
Aim for a temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15-19 degree celsius) for optimal sleep. (source)
Blocking out the Blue Light
How do you wind down after a night shift? Probably reading with a bedside lamp turned on, browsing your phone or tablet and watching TV, right?
While this stuff seems harmless, the light coming from all these devices is annoying your sleep hormone melatonin. This makes it almost impossible for sleep to happen quickly when you’ve had enough scrolling.
Instead, why not continue to do these habitual things and simply wear blue light blocking glasses at the same time? We started wearing them about a year ago and now we cannot go without them.
We wear Swanwick Sleep because they are comfortable, slick and importantly block out the most blue light of other brands on the market.
Read more about them here via our shift work tools page along with common FAQ’s with links on where to get yours.
Your Bedding and Mattress
Are you in love with your mattress and sheets? Or does your mattress make funny noises constantly and do your sheets make you itchy?
If this is the case, you need to upgrade ASAP.
When you work nights you are probably not going to be in the best mood.
Maybe it’s just me, but sleeping during the day when you can hear life happening outside or your kids playing in the next room can make you feel like you’re missing out on something.
You don’t need another thing to be annoyed about so spoil yourself in the sleeping department. Remember you are spending 1/3 of your day in your bedroom, so it’s worth the investment.
Here are some items we use or have used and recommend:
- New sheets – Mellanni Bed Sheet Set (from Amazon.com)
- A new mattress – Compare Nolah Mattresses (because they are ALL good!)
- Pillow – Snuggle-Pedic Supreme Plush Bamboo Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
Removing Your Phone From Your Bedroom
I know what you’re thinking… there is NO WAY I am doing this! But stick with me.
Here is why I have purposefully made it a “thing” for myself especially when working nights:
- Social media NEVER stops. I often found I was endlessly scrolling and before I knew it an hour had passed! I was wasting so much precious sleeping time and something needed to change.
- The light from my phone was keeping my sleep hormones awake proving to be a not-so-effective sleeping wind-down tool after all.
- I was busy thinking about what other people were doing and not on my own positive sleep thoughts. The distractions were too much.
Any of those sound familiar?
With your phone now outside the bedroom, you might find yourself getting bored.
I recommend either listening to sleep music such as the suggestions and videos we give in this post OR read a book or magazine (which actually has an ending) while wearing blue light blocking glasses.
It WILL be hard in the beginning but you’ll thank me in about 3-6 weeks after you’ve formed new habits.
If you now need an alarm clock, as you were previously using your cell phone, we wrote an entire post specifically for night shift workers about the BEST alarm clocks for us.
I am still amazed at how far technology has come in regards to alarm clocks and our sleep-wake cycle. Check it out here.
What about essential oils?Rubbing oil, such as lavender, on the soles of your feet, wrists or palms at the beginning and end of the day can help you feel calm and relaxed. A few drops onto your pillows or through a diffuser can also be incredibly comforting. See Embracing Lavender is the Key to Sleep for Shift Workers
- Nausea: What Causes Night Shift Nausea and How to Finally Beat It
- SWSD: Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) – What Is It and How to Avoid It?
- Burnout: Shift Work Burnout: Causes, Red Flags and How to Beat It
- Skin care: Best Skin Care Regimen and Products for Night Shift Workers
Summary: 7 Essential Night Shift Tips: Making the Impossible a Reality
While most 9-5 workers think night shift is impossible, it actually is doable with sleep, a properly balanced diet, sunshine and having social outlets.
We hope you gained a few tips and wish you well on your night shift adventures!
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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