Lessons learned while working the night shift:
- Every hour of sleep counts, and a sleep deficit will be more physically taxing.
- If you work the “graveyard”/second shift (overnight), don’t be ashamed to take a nap before a commute home. Speaking anecdotally, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to pull over on highways to avoid driving recklessly on the way home.
- There are not enough support resources and services that exist uniquely for workers who are unable to seek them during workers’ assumed off-hours (e.g. 7am-9am “before work”, or 5pm-7pm “after work”).
- Specific resources from Employee Assistance Plans (EAP), that cater to supporting night workers’ mental and physical well-being
- Greater understanding of how to support night workers (“Have you considered working a day shift?” does not a supportive answer make).
If you have ever worked shift work that involves overnights by rotation, or straights (consistent overnight shifts), routine is key.
Here are a few ways I was able to avoid exhaustion during my workweek, aligned with my old hours of work (10pm to 6am):
- Eat breakfast in the morning. I’m a lover of breakfast foods, and I typically ate around 7:00am (+/- 30 minutes). Working overnights meant being awake at that hour, and I was able to maintain a familiar habit by eating my favourite breakfast foods before hopping in the shower. The key difference was that I’d be headed straight to bed after my shower – though I don’t take issue with that.
- Use your waking hours to exercise, as much as possible. I walked to and from work every day, approximately 2km in one direction. This was my daily energy boost, in case I couldn’t make it to the gym one day or if I wasn’t feeling well. This was my minimum effort, and I felt great after every walk.
- Meal prep is your friend, when you’re happy and not hungry. I would pre-pack my lunch before going to bed, knowing that after work I’m less likely to over-stuff my lunchbag with junk food.
- Set a sleep routine. My sleep routine allowed me to rest for seven to eight consecutive hours, though I was also able to sleep in two 4-hour blocks. The trick here, is to be consistent. I only split up my sleep hours when I had errands to run or commitments at a scheduled time in the early afternoon or evening.
- Be patient with yourself. These adjustments take time for everyone, no matter how big or small. And be flexible, because change isn’t always easy!