There are some professions where working around the clock is inevitable such as the medical and security professions. However, this increasingly fast paced world has also started to demand that companies operate 24/7; factories produce day in and day out; and employees work day and night. Usually, this is not a problem especially if you are assigned to a morning or midday shift. The problem arises when you are assigned to night shift work. This schedule is in conflict with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, thus posing problems for your physical, mental, and social wellbeing. If you cannot avoid night shift work, then you might as well be equipped with effective coping mechanisms such as the following:
1. Exercise and Stretch for Energy
It is recommended that you exercise before going to work to increase energy and alertness. Exercise will also help you sleep and eat better. If you find yourself feeling sluggish any time during the day, then you should get up, move around, and do some stretching.
2. Bright Lights to Keep You Awake
Another way to stay awake is to be exposed to high intensity, full spectrum light. The bright light acts as sun light, which signals your brain to stay awake. Having bright lights in the office also help reduce vision problems from prolonged computer use.
3. Keep Your Sleep Routine
During weekends, it is best to follow your usual sleep routine during weekdays. This will allow your body to adjust to your schedule, allowing you to sleep better. If you must deviate from your weekday sleep routine, try to sleep through a maximum of half of your night work schedule.
4. Take Naps to Refresh Yourself
Usually, night shift workers will feel chronically sleepy. Take power naps of 15-20 minutes throughout the day to help reduce your sleep deficit. Power naps also help increase alertness, productivity, and even your mood. If you feel the need, you can also take a nap 30 minutes before your shift starts.
5. Watch Your Eating Schedule
It is important to have a set eating schedule during night shift work. It makes your body expect food at a certain time, ensuring that you will eat well despite the irregular meal times. Eat your breakfast before shift, lunch during the middle of your shift, and dinner when you get home.
6. Moderate Food Intake
Before shift, eat a large protein meal like you normally would at breakfast. For lunch or your midnight meal, it is best to keep your food intake light and healthy. Avoid eating a lot of simple carbohydrates because they can make you tired and sleepy. Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates and protein-rich food because these give you energy for the rest of your shift. If you must eat snacks, choose the healthy ones with small portions. After work, don’t eat a large meal before sleeping because you need time to digest it.
7. More Water, Less Caffeine
You should drink coffee or tea at the start of your shift. They should be avoided toward the end of your shift because you may have trouble sleeping. Instead of drinking caffeinated drinks throughout your shift, choose to drink water. Water helps increase alertness and productivity without the bad effects of caffeine. Don’t over hydrate, though, and keep your intake to about 2-3 liters per day.
8. Block out the Sun
When you leave work in the morning, try to block out the morning sun by wearing dark sunglasses. This will prevent your brain from waking up, allowing to sleep better.
9. No Need to Sleep Right Away
It is okay if you don’t want to sleep right after shift. You can still go out to meet friends, spend time with family, or work on a hobby, just like you would on a regular work schedule. It is also a good idea not to sleep right away because people will still moving around your home, getting ready for work or for school. When you are relaxed and the environment is quiet, you can then go to sleep.
10. Set the Mood for Sleep
Your room should be conducive for sleep during the daytime. Make sure that you block out the sun by using heavy curtains and by closing the door. You can also use sleeping eye masks if needed. Keep the room temperature cool, similar to the temperature at night. Block out or minimize distractions by turning off your cell phone or even unplugging your landline. Use earplugs to block out environment sounds.
11. Plan Your Social Life
Just because you live with a different schedule doesn’t mean that you should stop seeing your family and friends. Let them know about your schedule and try to get back into their lives as soon as you adjust to night shift. Make sure that you plan social or family events ahead so that you can join in. Don’t disconnect from the people who matter because they can really help you cope.
I’ve personally worked on night shift for six months and while it wasn’t always pleasant, it was bearable. Night shift work is definitely not easy. You can complain and whine about your situation or you can tackle it in a proactive way. The world will still go on despite your unconventional working hours so you need to find a way to cope. Once you have the coping mechanisms in place, you will realize that you can still have a life even if you work at night.
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