How to Adjust to Night Shifts

Although many of us are lucky enough to work in offices during the day, nurses, doctors, firemen, policemen and warehouse workers are but a few dedicated men and women who quite literally turn their lives upside-down for their jobs.

With that in mind, depending on the circumstances, just about anyone could one day find themselves working through the night.

If you do find yourself working a night shift, the chances are that you, or at least someone on your team could find yourself with a shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).


What is a shift work sleep disorder?

To put it simply an SWSD is a circadian rhythm disorder which is caused by the fact that a person is working in shift patterns.

One of the primary symptoms of shift work, perhaps surprisingly, is the complaint of excessive sleepiness, though other symptoms can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Disrupted sleep schedules
  • Reduced performance
  • Difficulties with personal relationships
  • Irritability/ depression

Unfortunately, there is relatively little medical help available for people suffering from SWSD. Despite this, however, there are ways to help elevate and cope with the issue.


Coping on the job

nurseIf you are working through the night, your body will instinctively feel like sleeping until you get used to the routine. Remember also, that after you have finished on nights, your body will then have to readjust to working through the day.

  • Make sure that you are stimulated and have eaten before you start work. Treat your first meal as breakfast, even if it is in the late afternoon or evening. If you usually consume orange juice or coffee when you wake up, then try to emulate your usual morning routine.
  • If you happen to be working a particularly long shift, mentally prepare yourself before you begin. Take snacks with you or work out when you will be able to get a coffee during down time.
  • During breaks, try not to sit around too much. If you can, take a walk or keep active so that you do not fall into a lull.
  • Support other members of staff who may be having the same difficulties as yourself. If anything, compare your routines to exchange tips on getting through the night.


Coping after work

alarm clockLike you would on a normal day, try and get into a schedule for sleeping at the same time every day.

If you can, wear sunglasses in the summer during your drive home so that you are not exposed to the light. Once that you are back at home, try and avoid watching television or partaking in other forms of work.

Unfortunately, sleeping during the day is much harder than at night and to add to this, daytime sleeping is usually shorter and lighter, even if you happen to have worked a 12-hour shift.

Invest in thick curtains to help block out the daylight. Though in winter, it is much easier to sleep, working night shifts in the summer time can be particularly difficult.

Try and keep your windows closed throughout the day and if you really have difficulty sleeping, try buying a sleeping mask and some ear plugs to help shield yourself against the hustle and bustle of the day.


What else do you have to think about while working night shifts?

As during the day, you need to think about the overall healthiness of your diet during the night.

As your body is naturally tuned to daytime settings, it will not receive the same nutrients and vitamins that you would in everyday life.

In fact, studies have shown that nurses working on night shifts are more susceptible to certain types of cancer. It is important, therefore, that you pay special attention to your diet, and if you can, try and spend just a little bit of time out in the sunshine.

Though this certainly isn’t a remedy, keeping yourself as healthy as possible is important.

Also, try to avoid fatty and spicy foods wherever possible. These are harder to digest and may make you feel drowsy throughout the shift.

Also on the list are sugary foods, as although they are good for energy in the short term, they cause significant dips in energy levels later on. Fruit and vegetables are far more efficient for energy and also provide vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Do you work night-shifts and have some great tips? Let us know in the comments below…