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The continued growth of businesses has led to more employers asking workers to take on night shifts normally only seen in fields like the medical or security industry. Although often associated with enticing wages, what impact do these shifts have on employee health? Continue reading to learn about the risks associated with working night shifts, and tips for how you can prioritize your mental and physical well-being if you’re working untraditional hours.
Risks of Working the Night Shift
Our bodies have a circadian rhythm that signals us when to be active and when to be restful throughout the day. Think of this as our natural alarm clock — it dictates to our brains the approximate time to get up for the day and lie down for a good night’s rest. This schedule goes further by helping us regulate our digestive system, body temperature, and heart rate.
Night shifts pose health risks by disrupting the body’s circadian system, and going against its natural sleep patterns. Without proper self-care, there’s the potential of developing health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain. Consider yourself a health-conscious person? Then it’s imperative to take the time to prioritize your mental and physical health to ensure your body is able to thrive.
How to Work the Night Shift: Tips for Staying Healthy and Productive
The key to successfully tackling night shifts is rooted in your ability to prioritize your wellness. Here are a few suggestions on how to stay healthy when pushing through those long hours:
1. Set a Sleep Schedule
Developing a consistent sleep routine is critical to preparing your body for the grueling hours of a night shift. If you’re a registered nurse or firefighter who likes to incorporate naps, try getting rest from 6 a.m.-10 a.m. and napping from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. to prepare for your shift. If naps aren’t for you, consider sleeping in the morning before you go to work from 6 a.m.-12 p.m.
2. Consume Caffeine in Moderation
Coffee and tea are lifesavers for those trying to maintain the energy levels needed to carry out their responsibilities throughout the night. Remember to consume in moderate amounts, however, to avoid crashing in the middle of your shift. It’s recommended to stop drinking caffeine around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to prevent you from not being able to fall asleep when you get home.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
Eating foods high in sugar and trans fats can make the night shift more difficult by destabilizing blood sugar levels and causing stomach discomfort. Pack nutritious snacks and meals for when you get hungry like salads, fruits, veggies, and trail mix.
Get ahead of the game by prepping your meals at the start of the week. This will help cut down on the time you spend getting ready and thinking of good options for you to eat throughout the week.
4. Stay Hydrated
Stay awake and energized by making sure you’re drinking enough fluids during your shift. This also helps to ensure your bodily functions are working properly, since we rely heavily on water to keep our systems running.
5. Exercise Regularly
Incorporating an exercise routine into your work week will help you feel more energized and prepared when taking on night shifts. If you’re a truck driver traveling hundreds of miles a night, it can be difficult to find the motivation to hit the gym. Find simple activities, like biking or hiking, that will allow you to get some fresh air and work in some cardio.
6. Schedule Nights Shifts Close Together
If you’re having trouble getting used to the odd hours, schedule night shifts consecutively. If you work as a police officer or security guard, this will also allow you to take advantage of the daytime when you have days off.
7. Create a Routine
Once your work schedule is somewhat set and consistent, make an effort to set a routine for when you’ll be going to bed and waking up. This will ensure you’re getting healthy amounts of sleep while you balance other aspects of your life like spending time with friends and family.
8. Avoid Alcohol
Using alcohol as a means to fall asleep faster will disrupt the amount of quality sleep you get after your shift. Though known as a sleep inducer, alcohol will impact your REM sleep, which influences how refreshed you feel when you wake.
9. Use Free Time Wisely
It’s natural to want to use the free time you have on your off days to do something fun and exciting. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to try to keep a relatively consistent schedule to prevent yourself from needing to readjust to your work schedule.
10. Keep Your Household in the Loop
If you live with other people, keeping them up to date on your work schedule can help them create a space that accommodates your sleep requirements. You can also plan the meals you’ll be able to share together to continue to make time for each other.
11. Take Nap Breaks
Take advantage of your break times by fitting in one or two strategically timed naps. This will help you remain alert and focused throughout the night. If possible, find a dark, quiet space where you can rest for 20-30 minutes.
12. Prioritize Self-Care
Working night shifts can have an unfortunate impact on your mental health. Prioritizing self-care practices like meditation, yoga, and other forms of therapy can help you stay connected to yourself and how you’re feeling.
13. Design a Sleep-friendly Bedroom
Once you’re finally able to hit the hay, you’ll want to create an environment that will allow you to drift into a peaceful slumber as quickly as possible. Close blinds to block out any unwanted light exposure, and avoid scrolling through your phone or TV channels.
14. Limit Blue Light
Blue light emitted from tech devices has a negative impact on your melatonin and sleep hormone levels. Avoid using your phone or staring at the television before going to bed to maximize the amount of restful sleep you get.
15. Keep Warm
With your built-in thermostat, your body naturally raises your temperature during the day and reduces it at night to preserve unused energy. Remain comfortably asleep by wrapping up in a blanket at night and using a fan while sleeping during the day to keep cool.
16. Move Around
Making time to take short walks throughout your shift will not only prevent you from falling asleep, but keep your blood flowing properly throughout your body. Go on a walk every hour or so to stretch your legs and rejuvenate yourself.
17. Foster a Community
Seek out fellow professionals or online forums where people can share their experiences and advice regarding taking on night shift hours. You could discuss healthy habits and routines that have helped you adjust to the job, and maybe pick up some tips from others, too.
18. Try to Get Some Sun
Those working night shifts are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies known to affect bone health and calcium levels. After you get some sleep, try opening your curtains or going for a walk around the neighborhood to get some sunlight.
19. Find a Class
If you’re a medical professional, the CDC offers resources on how to cope with night shift hours and adjusting your schedule to support a healthy lifestyle.
20. Talk to a Doctor
Headaches, insomnia, and nausea are just some of the symptoms someone can experience when taking on night shifts. Give yourself a month or so, and if these symptoms persist or worsen, seek out a doctor for advice. They may be able to advise you on how to better manage your symptoms.
Though you may be satisfied with your salary, just keep in mind that nothing is more valuable than your mental and physical health. With these tips and tricks, you can take on your night shifts knowing you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up for success throughout the night.
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Staying healthy whilst working the night shift starts with finding a sleep routine that works specifically for you. Then get organized by preparing healthy meals, snacks and energy-boosting beverages, embrace exercise even when you are tired and create time for people who make you happy.How do you stay productive on a night shift? ›
- 1) Practice yoga or meditation. ...
- 2) Take a break before starting. ...
- 3) Set a hard deadline. ...
- 4) Write down your goals. ...
- 5) Have a well-timed meal. ...
- 6) Create a productive playlist. ...
- 7) Don't work in your bedroom. ...
- 8) Avoid watching television while you work.
- Prepare for Night Shift. ...
- Get Adequate Sleep. ...
- Stick With Your Routine. ...
- Watch Your Caffeine Intake. ...
- Take a Nap if Necessary. ...
- Prepare Food Ahead of Time and Eat Nutritiously. ...
- Bring Activities to Work. ...
- Learn the Sleep Culture at Your Hospital.
Night shift work disrupts the body's circadian rhythms, or 24-hour internal “clock” that controls sleep-wake cycles. It increases the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that eating at night, as many nightshift workers do, impairs the body's ability to process sugar, or glucose.How can I avoid night shift health problems? ›
Have a healthy meal during the daytime filled with lots of greens, whole grains, legumes, pulses, and lentils. Avoid caffeine at night. Eat a bowl of salad or have soup to avoid heavy meals.Does working overnight age you? ›
Ten years or more of rotating night shift work was associated with 20% decreased odds of healthy aging. This association was consistently observed for the individual component of healthy aging. Overall, the observed association did not differ substantially by age, BMI, and other lifestyle factors.What should I eat on a night shift? ›
Energize with healthy snacks: Fuel your body with healthy options, such as hummus and fresh vegetables, low-fat yogurt or cheese, fresh fruit, nuts, tuna and whole-grain crackers. Rather than eating a big meal during your shift, consider eating small portions of healthy snacks to keep you energized as you work.How do I get energy on my night shift? ›
- Some Caffeine is OK but Watch Out When. ...
- Eat Light, Well Balanced Meals. ...
- Move Often. ...
- After Your Shift: Block Out Morning Light. ...
- Go Straight home. ...
- Keep Your Room Quiet, Cool, and Dark.
I can work any shift you require; it's my duty to be there when you need me. I would be happy to work night and weekend shifts if you have a proper security guard in place. I am not comfortable with night shifts due to safety concerns, but I am happy to work any other shift as needed.Should I sleep before my night shift? ›
It is a good idea to take a nap just before reporting for a night shift. This makes you more alert on the job. A nap of about 90 minutes seems to be best. Naps during work hours may also help you stay awake and alert.
For ageing employees, night work reduces sleep quality and recovering from demanding shifts takes more time. Based on new research results, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health recommends providing employees over 50 years of age with better opportunities to reduce night shifts and long hours.What happens to your brain when you work night shift? ›
What do night shifts do to the brain? Night shift work has also been shown to raise the risks of mental health issues such as nervousness, irritability, and anxiety as consequences of stressful working conditions. Loss of quality sleep has been attributed to the prevalence of these ailments.How can night shift workers improve health? ›
Seven ways to deal with night shifts
- Take a 30 minute nap * ...
- Eat small portions throughout the shift. ...
- Limit your caffeine intake. ...
- Stay hydrated. ...
- Keep busy. ...
- Talk with your co-workers.
Based on numerous studies, night shift workers should consider taking 2000-5000 IU/d vitamin D3 and raising serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels to 40-60 ng/ml. This may help to compensate for the effects on bone density of reduced sun exposure.How do I overcome night shift anxiety? ›
- Get a structured handover. Arafat Mulla, specialty trainee year 4 in respiratory medicine, North West deanery, says, “Be in control and get to work early. ...
- Get to know your team. ...
- Let yourself relax the day before. ...
- Use time off to rest. ...
- Focus on the present, not what might happen.
Recent findings: Shift work is associated with considerable impacts on sleep, depressed mood and anxiety, substance use, impairments in cognition, lower quality of life, and even suicidal ideation. Pronounced sleep disturbances frequently underlie the mental health consequences of shift work.Do you age faster on night shift? ›
Recent research showed the brains of workers who'd done 10 years of night shifts had aged by an extra six-and-a-half years.Can night shifts cause depression? ›
Research suggests that night shift workers may be as much as 33% more likely to have depression than those working a regular daytime schedule. The explanation behind this somber statistic is unknown, but it may have something to do with disrupted sleep.Why do I work much better at night? ›
For some, it's simply because there are fewer distractions and they can focus more easily. Others find that they're more productive when they have uninterrupted time to work. And still others find that they do their best thinking when it's quiet and they can think more creatively.What is the healthiest shift to work? ›
The morning shift is considered by many to be the healthiest shift to work, though this can also include a 12-hour shift that starts in the morning.
Bond with Your Coworkers
The night shift doesn't have to be a radical departure from working during the daytime. The truth is that working the night shift can be like any other job. Your life can go on, you can still run errands or spend time with the family.
So, on average, night shift workers get two to four hours less sleep who is prematurely interrupted. Moreover, night shift workers experience poorer stage two rapid eye movement sleep, which is perceived as being less restful.Is 4 hours sleep enough for night shift? ›
Most healthy adult night shift workers, still require the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep despite working non-traditional hours. Though some deem this almost impossible, taking naps, optimizing your sleep environment and considering food/beverage timing are useful strategies to maximize the sleep you do get.What is the hardest shift to work? ›
The night shift is difficult physically, but the afternoon shift can be hard on your family and social life. In my last post, I talked about shift workers' preferred shift, which is the day shift, and the implications of that preference on worker satisfaction levels.What is the best schedule for night shift workers? ›
A 30- to 60-minute nap right before your shift can make it a lot easier to make it through the night. Also, keep a regular sleep schedule, even on your days off. The back and forth of sleeping at night and then sleeping during the day is what makes it nearly impossible for your circadian rhythm to adjust.