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How to Get Ready for a Night Job

Getting ready for a massive commitment like a night job takes nothing less than a change in lifestyle founded on preparation and habit development. To stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy, preparations must cover managing sleep patterns, establishing a well-balanced diet, pacing your progress as you transition, and other safety measures.

Expert Advice on How To Stay Awake for the Night Shift

  1. Optimize your schedule. Never trade off sleep and make sure your schedule is fine tuned to allow for plenty of sleep. 
  2. Establish a sleep routine. Stick to this sleep routine every day to get your body up to speed regarding your new schedule. Sleep around the same time, even during the weekends.
  3. Establish natural eating patterns. Simply put, eat as you would during the day. Have breakfast when you wake up, lunch at the midpoint of your schedule, and dinner before you sleep.
  4. Take a nap. They work.  Make sure that naps don’t last longer than 45 minutes, 
  5. Control your diet. Stay away from sugary food, eat healthy, and stay hydrated. 
  6. Drink caffeine (if needed). Try to drink moderately throughout your shift and trail off your consumption 4-6 hours before you expect to go to sleep. 
  7. Optimize your sleep environment. Blackout curtains, sleep masks, better mattresses, sound machines: Test them all. Bonus points if you use a smart device (e.g. Oura ring, 8Sleep Mattress) to find out what puts you in your deepest sleep.
  8. Exercise and decompress. Be sure to exercise. Ideally you do this before your shift and keep the routine. 

Precautions and Preparations: Getting Ready for the Night Shift

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information published in the National Library of Medicine supports the importance of preparation. In fact, a team of experts concluded that emergency faculty who did not prefer using pharmacologic sleep aids and eating before their shift fall asleep while driving home at a higher rate. More importantly, these same emergency faculty enjoy night shift work less than emergency residents and nurses who do.

These findings prove that preparation for the night shift is an essential part of cultivating a healthy and happy work life. In the discussion section of the study, the emergency faculty agreed with the statement “I enjoy working night shifts” less.

Through a Likert Scale, the researchers gauged the participant’s perceptions of the physical and mental impact of the night shift. Nurses and residents rated their agreement with the statement “I enjoy working night shifts” as four out of five (on average). On the other hand, the faculty recorded their agreement with the same statement at an average of three out of five.

In light of this information, what kind of preparation should a person do before committing to a life on the night shift? What are things there to consider? How do you prepare yourself for a night job? This article will walk you through the essentials, the dos and the don’ts, and, most importantly, the medically-approved approach to ensuring a healthier lifestyle.

There are a number of things to keep in mind as you prepare yourself for your new life ahead. The primary things you should be looking into are the optimization of your schedule, your diet, and, arguably most importantly, sleeping hygiene.


Sleeping Hygiene

The National Sleep Foundation itself claims that there is an undeniable connection between shift work, working long hours, and health complications. The institution asserts that working irregular hours, like night shifts, may increase the risks for metabolic problems, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, obesity, and certain types of cancer.

The NSF also cited a study in the BMJ Journal, a weekly peer-reviewed medical trade journal published by the trade union the British Medical Association, that mentioned the harm the night shift can do by interfering with the body’s ability to repair DNA damage.

These risks are why sleep hygiene should be among the top priorities as you adjust to the night shift. The human body naturally demands to sleep at night time. This explains why many people experience sleep deprivation and fatigue when they work the night shift. There are, however, some people who work at night without issue.

The body often feels the need to sleep due to an internal body clock. This internal body clock, located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, is responsible for many sleep-related and recovery processes. According to Medical News Today, the SCN generated circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythms regulate the behavioral and physiological processes of the body. These processes include alertness, sleep, temperature control, and hormone production.

Managing Sleep Patterns

An important part of ensuring that sleep hygiene is healthy and cared for is the management of sleep patterns. The NSF guidelines state that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a day to function in optimal conditions. The guidelines illustrated the recommended hours of sleep for every age group as shown in the table below:

The information in the NSF guidelines merely serves as a rule of thumb for how much sleep certain age groups need. The guide also acknowledges that there may be unique circumstances where there is some wiggle room with the range for the recommendable amount of sleep.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the Sleep Research Society, and various institutions in Canada also published separate studies of their own and unsurprisingly yielded similar results.

To fully understand how much sleep you truly need, the NSF released guide questions for introspection:

  • Are you productive, healthy, and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or have you noticed that you require more hours of sleep to get into high gear?
  • Do you have coexisting health issues? Are you at higher risk for any disease?
  • Do you have a high level of daily energy expenditure? Do you frequently play sports or work in a labor-intensive job?
  • Do your daily activities require alertness to do them safely? Do you drive every day and/or operate heavy machinery? Do you ever feel sleepy when doing these activities?
  • Are you experiencing or do you have a history of sleeping problems?
  • Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
  • When you have an open schedule, do you sleep more than you do on a typical workday?
  • Start with the above-mentioned recommendations and then use your answers to these questions to home in on your optimal amount of sleep.

Answering these questions will allow you to understand how much sleep you need and even help you re-adjust your everyday life.

Improving Your Sleep Hygiene

Now that you have a better grasp of how much sleep you need for your nightly escapades, it’s time to put it into practice. Through the National Sleep Foundation and various other institutions’ research, experts found measures you can put into practice to improve sleep.

To improve your sleep hygiene, here are some practices you can turn into a habit:

  • Establish a sleep schedule. Stick to this sleep schedule every day to get your body up to speed regarding your new schedule. Sleep around the same time, even during the weekends.
  • Cultivate a relaxing pre-bed routine. There are a number of activities to explore, but basically, the goal is to activate a body process called relaxation responses. Pre-bed routines lower people’s heart rates and blood pressure, slow down and deepen breathing, and nurture a better sense of well-being. According to research, these effects help people fall asleep.
  • Making your sleeping environment ergonomically optimal. Invest in your mattresses, beddings, and pillows. Through extensive studies, experts discovered that purchasing comfortable and supportive materials for bed settings can improve sleep.
  • Reduce disruptive lights and sounds. For optimal results, sleep is best when uninterrupted. A nice and comfortable temperature paired with a soothing aroma would also help your body relax as it recovers through sleep.

Optimizing Your Schedule

It would be difficult to establish a viable sleep schedule without ensuring you have enough time to sleep. So one of the most important things to prioritize is to guarantee that you get enough sleep. It’s always tempting to sacrifice sleep for the many things you want to do while awake, but the body functions in optimal conditions when it gets enough rest.

Make sleep a priority in your schedule and allocate hours for work for social activities. Never trade off sleep. Studies by the Center for Disease Control and Management and various institutions warned the public of the adverse effects of sleeplessness.

In fact, the APA cited a study that discovered that police officers who frequently worked the 8 PM to 4 AM shifts more had a higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome symptoms. These same officers, who also revealed that they averaged fewer than six hours of sleep, were four times more likely than other officers to have metabolic syndrome.

An article published in the American Journal of Surgery reported that well-rested surgeons perform significantly better than their sleep-deprived counterparts in terms of hand motions and errors committed.

A Well-Balanced Diet

Maintaining a well-balanced diet is an important factor in keeping the body healthy during the transition to the night shift. In fact, The Medical News Today reported that night shift workers have a 23% increased risk of becoming obese or overweight and are more likely to experience metabolic syndrome.

According to BioMed Central, a previewed journal, a poor diet and the disruption of the body clock are the primary causes of these health consequences. Planning a healthy diet for the transition ahead helps people stay alert as they work and relax as they sleep.

To make sure you eat healthily, experts have recommendations you can follow for an excellent diet for the night shift:

  • Establish natural eating patterns. Simply put, eat as you would during the day. Have breakfast when you wake up, lunch at the midpoint of your schedule, and dinner before you sleep.
  • When you often find yourself becoming drowsy or sleepy, you may want to consider eating small portions but more frequently. Professionals frequently associate heavy meals with 
  • Stick with easy-to-digest food. Your metabolism will definitely take a hit as you transition to a night job. This is why you need to eat something that’s easy to process, like bread, rice, pasta, salad, milk products, fruits, and vegetables.
  • By extension, you must also avoid food that’s hard to digest. Avoid eating fried, spicy, and processed meals as much as you can.
  • Stay away from sugary food. Despite the concept of the sugar boost, the energy you get from sweets can be short-lived and would leave you feeling drained right after.
  • Eat healthy food and stay hydrated. Focus on fruits and vegetables as much as you can, as these types of food are important sources of vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Staying hydrated is also important as it improves physical and mental performance. However, make sure that you don’t overload on water or other liquids before you go to bed, as it may awaken you in the middle of sleeping.

These are just some of the ways you can help yourself be healthy through a well-balanced diet. Food establishments and groceries can be inaccessible to night workers, so planning meals ahead may help in many ways.

Stimulants, Supplements, and Pharmaceuticals

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, coffee is the leading beverage for helping people stay alert. In research experts performed with emergency residents, nurses, and faculty, over 72% of the participants drink coffee before their night shift.

Caffeine, a chemical present in coffee, sodas, and energy drinks, is a stimulant. Coffee can help keep night workers awake. However, improper use can prove to be counterproductive. Coffee can cause gastrointestinal illnesses and interfere with sleep when used irresponsibly.

Most people drink their coffee to start their day. However, a study published in PubMed Central, a highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health, suggests that drinking coffee frequently but with lower amounts counteract the deterioration of performance as workers stay awake for extended durations.

Improve Your Sleep Environment

Improving your sleep environment isn’t as simple as just keeping everything nice and neat. From finding the most comfortable bed, sheets, and pillows to optimizing the lighting, working on the sleeping environment can be a lot of work.

You can start by preparing your bedroom. Optimal lighting is important for quality sleep. In fact, a study that experts published on PubMed Central state that all nurses who go to work from midnight to 6 AM should take naps in a private, dark, quiet, and cool room for 20-30 minutes.

Darker rooms are good for sleep quality during the day as light triggers chemical reactions in the body to make people feel more awake. In fact, research has even shown that there is virtually no difference between intermittent and extensive exposure when it comes to effects on the body and sleep quality.

You can get a cozier dim to your room by hanging up light-blocking curtains. Optimizing the environment will also require some peace and quiet. If you have any noise-related concerns, you can use earplugs to block off any disruptions and raise sleep quality.

Ensure better sleep quality by turning off gadgets, live phones, or TV for fewer distractions. You may also want to use an air conditioning or heating system to control the room temperature when it gets too hot or too cold.

Stay Sharp in the Workplace

When used responsibly, caffeine can work wonders for productivity during the night shift. However, too much coffee can lead to health risks. Fortunately, there are many other ways to keep yourself sharp during your irregular work times.

Taking a nap, according to a report by Berkeley News, midway through the day boosts and restores brainpower. The study also claims that naps that last 20 to 45 minutes long are beneficial for shift workers to reduce fatigue. Make sure that naps don’t last longer than 45 minutes, as it’s important not to wake up during deep sleep. Waking up during the deep sleep of a sleep cycle may cause people to become even less alert and increase sleep inertia.

Walking around can also keep you awake as the activity engages that body. You can move around, climb some stairs, play some music, and dance. As long as it gives the body energy through physical activity, you can stay sharp.

Exercise, Reduce Stress, and Decompress

Stress can interfere with a person’s ability to sleep. If you have any difficulties with sleeping, it’s important that find ways to relax and decompress. Activities like yoga, taking a warm bath, or putting on some relaxing music can help you drift off to sleep. Such activities will also help you reduce stress and improve your sleeping quality.

The National Sleep Foundation released an article on their website detailing various activities you people can try to relax and improve their sleep quality. These activities range from breathing exercises to visualization exercises and even muscle relaxation.

If all else fails, the CDC recommends exercise. Since experts connected increased risks for heart disease with working the night shift, exercise has become even more important.

Being Healthy in Day Shifts vs Night Shift

Being healthy as you work day shifts and night shifts are two completely different things. The National Sleep Foundation, the American Association for Cancer Research, and various other institutions have all revealed that the night shift affects the body differently when compared to working regular day jobs.

According to the United States Office of Personnel Management, if the majority of an employee’s regularly scheduled non-overtime shift covers 3 PM to 12 midnight or 11 PM to 8 AM, they are entitled to premiums called night differentials.

With these criteria in mind, night shifts are regular non-overtime work schedules between these timeframes. Being in this shift entails a completely different life. According to research that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted, over 15 million Americans work full-time on evening shifts, night shifts, rotating shifts, or other irregular schedules.

Working night shifts has been proven to massively affect people’s health. Human beings are non-nocturnal organisms. This nature of a person’s body plays a vital role in the varying needs of people as they work during the day and during the night.

One of the main concerns experts have about the night shift is how it tampers with people’s natural rhythms. As working the night shifts interfere with the body’s natural rhythms, poor scheduling and unhealthy attitudes toward sleep can cause major health concerns for night workers.


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