How to effortlessly adjust to a night shift schedule

Most workers have a regular Monday to Friday work week with typical 9 - 10 AM to  6 - 7 PM workday. However, this method of scheduling employees doesn’t suit organizations and companies that have to work round-the-clock: hospitals, call-centers, and fire departments, just to name a few.

For example, many fire departments implement a 48/96 hour work schedule. That means that firemen typically have to work for two days straight and are given 4 days off. While they do have to be alert for two days with little time for sleep or rest, recent studies have shown that this shift work type leaves them enough time for leisure, sleep and preparing for the next rotation.

Each hospital must always have nurses available to provide 24/7 patient care. They can work 8/12 hour shifts on a 3 workdays/3 days off or a 2 workdays/2 days off schedule. As a rule, nurses work fixed shifts (day or night). For example, day-time nurses start working at 7 AM and finish at 7 PM, while night-time caregivers start at 7 PM, work late night shift hours and finish at 7 AM.

Call centers may have their own rules of shift work, however, there are several common ways of achieving a steady 24/7 work cycle. Managers typically divide a day into 2 or 3 shifts. In the first case, a day is divided into two 12-hour shifts for morning and evening workers. The second variant allows having three 8-hour shifts. For example: 6 AM - 2 PM (1st), 2 PM - 10 PM (2nd) and 10 PM - 6 AM (3rd).

In some cases, employees are required to alternate between shifts: work morning shifts for a couple of days and then switch to a night shift for the same period. According to the latest research, a change in working hours negatively affects sleep and eating patterns. Working a night shift schedule can cause insomnia, high blood pressure, weight and appetite disorders. This article will detail the proper ways of adapting to a night time schedule.

How nightly shift work affects sleep and rest

Human body’s circadian rhythm determines waking and resting hours. People who work in organizations with a 24/7 work cycle, including policemen, firemen, nurses, call center operators, and gas station workers, have their circadian clocks disrupted. As a rule, managers have to plan shift work so that workers will get an adequate amount of time for work and rest.

Compared to an 8-hour day shift, night shift (11 PM to 6 AM) work time is decreased from 8 to 7 hours. A worker can also agree to a 12 AM - 5 AM schedule, if necessary. Despite missing five work hours a week compared to their daytime colleagues, night-shift employees receive the same 40-hour week salary. Night shift staff can be called in for extra hours of work, but do no more than 8 hours in 24 hours.

16-17-year-old staff members are forbidden from working between 12 and 4 AM. However, such workers are allowed to work from 10 PM to 6 AM if they were hired by hotels, retail shops or hospitals. There are no limitations to night shift schedule hours for hospitals, emergency services, TV and radio stations.

Many workers who have to make a transition from a morning to an evening shift experience exhaustion, insomnia, changes in weight and appetite. It takes them too much time to cope with new daily waking and sleeping hours, however, there are tricks that make this process less painful for inexperienced workers.

How to get a good night sleep when working late night shift hours

In order to painlessly transition between shifts, the body has to be prepared for the coming changes. If an employee switches between morning and evening shifts, the time of waking up and going to bed has to be prolonged or shortened. When an employee switches from a morning to a night shift schedule, he has to wake up and go to bed an hour later for a couple of days. In order to painlessly transition from a night to a morning working hours, employees have to wake up and go to bed an hour earlier for a couple of days.

Whenever your work begins, good night sleep is a guarantee of a productive day at the job. In general, workers have to sleep t least 6 hours a day to feel well-rested. Those working the night shift have a hard time achieving this goal due to the fact that our bodies are rigged to be active during the daytime. The solution to this problem is adapting the environment to that of the night time.

First and foremost one should block out all of the noises. Switching off your smartphone, doorbell, and TV is a must. It will also work better if the bedroom is located in the quietest place of home. Having soundproof windows with good isolation will make it easier to isolate any outdoor noise. It is also good to tell friends and neighbors about your new sleeping schedule so that they don’t call you accidentally during those hours.

It is also important to make the room as dark as possible even when the sun is shining brightly outside. Covering windows with pitch black curtains is a good solution. Avoid eating or drinking before going to bed. Make it a habit of not taking alcohol or caffeine a couple of hours before going to bed. A good read, a hot shower/bath will make it easier for your body to relax and fall asleep.

How shift work changes appetite

The changes in circadian rhythm affect the body’s sleeping as well as eating patterns. Irregular or excessive food consumption, especially at night time, makes workers feel fatigued and restless. Both their productivity and health suffer as a result.

There are several tips for surviving the night shift with minimum risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases or gaining excess weight. Before going to work, it is important to have the biggest meal of the day. That way you will be energized and ready to take on the day. 6 PM is the best time to have that meal for those working late at night.

What to eat during night shift work

Suffering from drowsiness and fatigue seem to be one of the most common side effects of working the night shift. These feelings can be dealt with by sticking to a healthy diet. During night shifts it is better for workers to focus on high-protein food, including tuna, chicken, tofu, eggs, low-fat cheese. These products will keep employees alert and focused.

They can be combined into nutritious snacks an employee can bring to work. For example, you can pack some brown rice salad with chicken breast and tofu or a dietary vegetable and beans soup. You can also keep hunger at bay with hazelnuts, apples, greek yogurt, almonds, carrots, and hummus, are all perfectly good and healthy choices.

It is also necessary to drink enough water during the night shifts. An adequate amount of liquid will make you less dependent on coffee or sweets as sources of alertness and energy. Sugar-free black and herbal tea, fresh vegetable juices and cold water are all nice choices for hydration.

What to avoid during night shift work

Eating high-carbohydrate shortly before or during the night shift is a full proof way of getting yourself drowsy and unproductive. Things like potatoes, bread or cereals sedate and relax workers, making it harder for them to pull through the night shift.

Sweetened beverages and food that is high in sugar content can be just as harmful. Soda or a candy bar may seem like good sources of energy at first, but this kind of snack will make you sleepy a couple of hours later. Not to mention that during the night time a human body can’t process sugar effectively.

Too much caffeine is another health threat for night shift workers. It's OK to drink several cups of coffee at the beginning of a night shift, but consuming it during the whole duration can cause insomnia and other sleeping disorders. Your daily dose shouldn’t be more than 400 mg of caffeine ( four small cups).

We hope that night shift workers will find listed advice helpful.