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If you’ve ever been tempted to complain about the physical and mental grind of your 9-to-5, then you might want to spare a thought for those hardy souls who earn their living nocturnally. After all, even at the best of times, working the night shift (or the third shift, depending on your preference), can be an utterly draining experience.
With the right guidance and advice, however, it doesn’t need to be such a drag. For many people, the graveyard shift actually offers a whole host of advantages and benefits, and if you’re well prepared and aware of the various tricks of the trade, spending your nights on the job can actually be relatively enjoyable.
So, if you’ve been landed with the overnight watch, don’t despair; simply follow these nine handy tips, and the small hours will quickly become your friend!
This is what you need to know about working the night shift.
1. Allow Yourself to Adjust
When you start working nights, you are effectively flipping your established physical, mental and social routine completely on its head; perhaps unsurprisingly, this is going to take some serious getting used to.
It will likely take at least a month before your body starts adapting properly to your new schedule, so in the meantime, go easy on yourself. While you don’t need to totally shut yourself away from society, consider keeping your commitments and exertions to a minimum. Remember: switching to the night shift is going to have a hugely significant impact on your life, so give your body as much help as you can.
2. Stick to a Sleep Pattern
Perhaps the biggest adjustment that your body is going to have to make is in reversing your sleep pattern; luckily, this will become easier with time, although there are certain things you can do to quicken the process.
The most important thing is to stick to a routine. Some people prefer to climb straight into bed the moment they get home, while others prefer to eat breakfast or spend an hour with their family first; either way, you should consistently adhere to whatever works for you.
3. Get Quality Sleep
Your body clock is naturally influenced by light and dark cycles, which is why humans are programmed to sleep during the night; therefore, you might need to work a little harder to replicate those nocturnal conditions and guarantee yourself quality rest time. Some things to consider include:
- Light control – It’s harder to sleep when you no longer have a morning routine and sunshine is blaring through the window. Invest in some dark curtains or blinds that can keep the light out, as well as a sleeping mask. For this reason, you should also avoid TV and phone screens just as you’re about to hit the hay.
- Noise control – While nights are generally quiet, days can involve traffic, construction work, children playing and a whole other host of sensory distractions; try to keep these to a minimum by employing noise-cancelling earplugs (paid link), as well as a sound machine (paid link), to keep you relaxed.
- Sleep length – While circumstances may not always allow it (picking up a sick child from school, for instance), you should always get between seven to nine hours of sleep – just the same as you would at night. Many workers sleep for less in order to take advantage of not being in work, but after a while, this will catch up with you, possibly resulting in burnout.
- Temperature – At night, the temperature generally drops, making you crave those extra blankets, but during the day, the opposite happens. A helpful tip is to regulate your room temperature to several degrees below the external temperature in order to replicate night-time conditions and ensure you don’t awaken in a messy sweat.
4. Eat and Drink Well
The effect of a good breakfast on your performance at work is already well documented, and the same diet principles apply when you’re working nights, too. Always make sure that you eat a healthy and nutritious meal that stimulates all the right brain activities before you start your shift.
During your shift, you should also continue to snack on healthy foods (just as you would in a typical 9-to-5) and keep yourself hydrated. It’s okay to drink coffee, but bear in mind that, unlike most jobs, you’ll be heading to bed once you get home; therefore, it’s not advisable to down half a pot of coffee just as you’re leaving the building.
5. Keep Busy – and Be Productive
This one ultimately depends on your job; if you’re a nurse, for example, then there will always be tasks to keep you occupied, such as restocking for the day shift, performing drug checks or working on your CPD portfolio.
Alternatively, if your role is a bit more passive, you may need to improvise. Try to pass the hours in an engaging way, such as playing a video game or watching a movie, or – even better – try to use the time constructively. After all, a quiet night shift is the perfect opportunity to work on your novel or finally get that business idea off the ground.
Either way, always try to keep busy: an idle mind will make your shift an awful lot longer than it needs to be.
6. Seek Professional Help If Necessary
Due to the extreme changes your body experiences, as well as the generally antisocial nature of the hours, it’s no surprise that working nights can potentially result in serious health problems. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to what your body is telling you and to seek professional medical help immediately if you’re starting to struggle.
For instance, if you are relying on sleeping pills or, worse, alcohol in order to nod off every day, then this is a serious issue, and you should consult your doctor. Not all health problems may be as obvious, though; whether due to the lack of interaction with others or the constant exposure to darkness, you might potentially develop symptoms of depression which are harder to detect and treat. The key is to constantly monitor yourself and know when things are starting to take their toll – and to do something about it when they do.
7. Stay Active During the Night
Even when your body is fully adjusted to your working hours, you may still feel the urge to get 20 winks here and there. Within the science community, there are advocates for and against this indulgence.
While a power nap can admittedly make you feel more refreshed, slipping into a deeper sleep will simply make you feel worse – and less alert – when you are eventually jolted awake. Ultimately, it depends on the nature of your role, as well as the rules set down by your employer (some are happy to turn a blind eye, while some deem sleeping on the job a sackable offence).
Instead, try to focus on remaining active. Take regular walks around the building or perimeter or set yourself press-up targets for the night. Light exercises or activities that give you a rush of blood will help to keep you fresher and alert – and will also help to tire you out when you eventually get home.
8. Keep to a Routine
Human beings love routines. Our brains are wired to crave them and, as a result, we perform better when we establish them; it’s a good idea, therefore, to create one for your night shift.
Maybe you like to do certain things in a certain order or you like to get all the most time-consuming tasks out of the way first; perhaps you make a coffee or eat your food at a specific certain time. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you have a structured plan in mind.
There is also an element of mimicry involved. By having a routine, your shift will feel more like a ‘normal’ working day, which aids productivity and ensures that you’re not spending the night twiddling your thumbs and simply waiting for sunrise.
9. Keep Everyone Else Informed
Of course, it’s not only you who will feel the effects of switching to nights; your family and friends will also be aware of your increasing absence. Getting them to understand that you can’t simply ‘meet them for lunch’ or assuaging your partner’s concerns about coming home to an empty house most nights requires strong levels of understanding and communication. Maintaining these relationships is hugely important, so reach compromises where you can and try to spend your days off with the right people.
Try to accommodate other aspects of your life around your timetable, too. It might require some organisational skills on your part, but arrange certain unavoidable meetings, errands or deliveries for your days off or for during windows between sleep and work. It’s not fair to ask others to schedule their time around you, of course, but it is important that they also understand why you might not always be available.
Working the night shift requires a lot of understanding from others, as well as a strong degree of realism from yourself. Yet, if managed correctly, it can work hugely to your advantage; after all, you are less likely to be busy, you don’t have to put up with difficult colleagues or annoying bosses and – best of all – you’ll get paid more!
So, if you want a change from the norm, and you’re happy to adapt, then why not consider making the change? Just make sure that you follow these tips, and it could be the best decision you’ve ever made!
Do you work the graveyard shift? What other advice would you give? Let us know in the comments section below!