The Ultimate Guide to Surviving a Night Shift

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The dreaded night shift. Many lines of work are familiar with this term, and they’re rarely happy about being subjected to it. Whether you’re a paramedic, police officer, truck driver, or office worker, you’ll find that night shifts are the most difficult to work through. It throws off your rhythm and becomes especially hard to handle, especially during the second half of your shift. It’s an inescapable part of many lines of work, so it’s best to get used to it.

While the night shift might be difficult, it’s still something that can be managed with a little planning and dedication. Here’s a guide to help you get through it with minimal problems.

What to do before your shift

While some people might see a night shift as a slight annoyance, for others it’s a situation that will disrupt various aspects of their lives. Because of this, you need preparation and lots of it. You want to make sure that your shift doesn’t leave you too exhausted or drained to perform other activities in the days following this dreadful day. The question is: where do you start? There are lots of ways to prepare for a night shift, and you need to start early.

regular sleep

Schedule your sleep in advance

Wakefulness is the most important element of being productive during a night shift. You need to be awake and ready for the tasks that await you unless you want to start dowsing off during your shift or even fall asleep. This would be a very bad look for you and your employer, which is why you have to schedule your sleeping pattern to accommodate the night shift.

The way you go about this depends on a few factors. If you find it easy to fall asleep, the process just becomes a matter of finding the right timing. If you have a normal shift the day before the night shift, you can try going to sleep before your inevitable night shift begins. This will keep you wakeful throughout the shift, albeit you might feel a bit drowsy from the extra sleep. If, however, you don’t have shifts before it, you can stay up the night before and then sleep throughout the day. This will keep you fresh and awake when you have to work during the night.

For those that find it difficult to fall asleep on command, it might take some effort. Not everyone will find it easy to fall asleep during the day. The trick is to make your body think it’s night time. Get your room as dark as possible throughout the day and enjoy a full meal beforehand. Have a relaxing bath or stretching session and see if that gets you in the mood for some shut-eye. Find sleep aides online if you need them. If successfully orchestrated, you’ll be wide awake by the time you need to clock in for the night shift.

Change your meal schedule

Food has an enormous impact on our sleep/wake cycle. You’re probably familiar with this concept already. In the morning, you’re grumpy and drowsy before you start eating breakfast. Once you’ve had your nutritious start of the day, you feel a lot more awake. Combined with some coffee, you’re ready to start your day off right. If you’ve slept during the day, you’ll need to treat your first meal of the day like breakfast, no matter when you have it. Aim for something nutritious, but not too heavy.

Just like you’d time your meal to help you fall asleep for the night shift, you need to make sure you don’t get sleepy from the meals you eat right before it. People often get sleepy after a heavy meal like dinner, so this should be avoided right before your night shift. Have a light snack and bring something for your “lunch break” during the shift.

Be as active as you can

There’s no relaxing the day of your night shift. Most days, you’re probably using the evening to relax and unwind. If you have a night shift coming, this isn’t something you want to be doing right before it. Instead, you want to be as active as possible.

It might seem a bit counterintuitive, but you need some physical and mental exertion before your night shift. It won’t tire you out as you may think. Instead, it’s going to keep you on high alert and physically ready to tackle a night shift. Try to go for a jog or do some light exercising a couple of hours before the shift, it’s going to do you a lot of good.

What to do during the shift

What you do during the shift will have just as much impact as what you’ve done to prepare for it. This is why you have to get ready for the night to come. Many will find the shift itself to be the most difficult hurdle to overcome, but it’s perfectly manageable if you know how to handle it.

Choose the right food

While the timing might have been the key for preparing food for the night shift, eating during the shift itself is all about substance. You need to pick the right kind of food to eat during this period. You’ll want to choose foods that give you energy over those that sap you of it. This means nothing too heavy during the early parts of the shift. Otherwise, you’ll start getting sleepy somewhere near the midpoint.

Nuts and fruit mixes are ideal choices during this period. Putting aside the fact that they’re healthy on their own, they also provide you with a lot of quick and stable energy. You can enjoy them throughout the night and not have to worry about your sugar crashing and bringing you down. Plus, you get some healthy calories out of the meals as well.

Bond with coworkers

In most cases, you won’t be alone in sharing the burden of a night shift. If the business is running twenty-four-seven, you’ll likely have some coworkers alongside you throughout the night. If there’s something worse than spending the whole night working, it’s doing so in silence or isolation.

You can always try to bond with your coworkers. You never know, they could turn out to be even more interesting than you previously thought. Try and start a conversation, it’s going to make the night go along much faster. Plus, you might make some new friends while bonding during a grueling night shift. Tough times make for great friendships.

Drink your coffee right

Caffeine is what gets us all through the night shift in one piece. It’s the saving grace of all shifts, but it’s especially useful during the night shift. Of course, this only applies if you’re drinking it right. It might not seem like drinking coffee would be complicated during a long night shift, but you should put a bit of forethought into it.

You shouldn’t be drinking your coffee during the whole shift. It’s important that you limit coffee for the most critical parts of the shift, for maximum efficacy. Intuition goes right out the door when it comes to caffeine. Most people would save their coffee for the middle of their shift so that they can get their second wind from it, but that’s not the best way to utilize it.

The ideal time to visit the office coffee machine is at the very start of the night shift. This is when you need that caffeine most. Think of it as your morning coffee. It’s your first pick-me-up of the day and it sets the tone for the rest of the shift. Use it wisely. Afterwards, what helps keep you up is water. If you need any drink during the latter half of your night shift, it’s water. Drink your fill and you’ll quickly feel the positive effects that will last until the end of your shift.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What to do after the shift

When it’s time to clock out for t to clock out for the night, you’re going to be relieved as ever. It’s the end of the night shift and you’re ready to go home. You might be exhausted, but it’s not going to be much worse than your average workday if you’ve prepared for it. Still, there’s going to be a bit more adjusting before you’re done.

Get home safe

While you might have slept the day before and had your fill of coffee, this doesn’t mean you won’t be drowsy. Your body won’t be perfectly adapted to staying awake at this time unless you keep it up for weeks at a time. This means driving will be a bit more difficult.

If you came by car, consider calling a cab or phoning a friend. By the early morning, you might have someone willing to drive you, as they might be heading for their early morning jog. If not, take care and go slow.

Get adequate sleep

While you may be exhausted after your shift, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have an easy time sleeping afterwards. In fact, it might be a lot harder than you think. It’ll be almost daytime already, and that will signal to your body that it’s time to be wakeful, even though you’ll be tired.

The presence of daylight and lots of commotion from people getting to work won’t make it any easier for you to fall asleep, so you’ll need to improvise. Get yourself some earplugs and a night mask. This should make your morning sleeping session a lot easier. You’ll be able to simulate night time and fall asleep with little issue. Night masks aren’t perfect, so you can consider rolling down the blinds. Might as well put the curtains up too. Anything that helps get your bedroom cozier and darker will come in handy. When you wake up, later on, you’ll find that it won’t be too difficult to stay awake. The only difference is that night time will come a bit sooner than usual.


There are lots of reasons why you might find the night shift especially difficult. Such work times don’t sit well with our circadian rhythms and we’re more often than not left completely drained afterwards. They also throw off our rhythm for a few days afterwards, while we get adjusted. Still, it’s something you have to go through from time to time in many work positions, so might as well make it easier on yourself. With the above tips, you’ll be able to handle the night shift with little issue.

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