Are you going to stay up until the sun rises — not to have fun at a party, but because of work? Here are twelve simple tips that will help you prepare for night shifts, even if you are not used to them. Here we go:
1. Drink plenty of water
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue. One of the reasons we are tired when we wake up in the morning is that our body has gone at least eight hours without absorbing any fluids; then, when we do drink water, it takes us at least ten minutes to feel the effects.
If you want to stay awake during your night shift, it’s essential that you are properly hydrated. So remember to drink water during your breaks, especially if you’ve eaten food that’s high in salt. If you don’t drink enough, you’ll feel sleepy and tired.
2. Go to bed late
It’s pretty hard to stay awake for over twenty hours, because it’s not what our body is designed to do. The most efficient thing you can do to prepare for a night shift is to simply stay up the night before, go to bed really late, and wake up really late as well.
If your shift ends at 6am or later, ideally you want to wake up after 2pm; the later, the better. It may feel weird, but ultimately it’s the best way to make sure you’ll still have energy during the last hours of your shift. Once you embrace your inner night owl and train your body to stay awake until late, night shift will be a breeze.
3. Take a nap
Not everyone is able to wake up in the afternoon. Over time, our body gets used to a certain sleep cycle, and it can be hard to change it. Typically, you should avoid taking naps because they make it harder to fall asleep at night, but in this case, that’s what you want anyway.
If you need to prepare for night shifts and you can’t sleep until late (because your body can’t adjust to the new cycle, or you are busy) then taking a two-hour nap and waking up feeling refreshed right before dinner will do the trick. Make sure your room is completely dark, and wear earplugs if there is noise.
4. Drink green tea
If you are supposed to work nights, say, only once every two months or so, then it may be fine to take stimulants such as coffee. By taking stimulants once in a while, your body won’t develop a tolerance, and it will be less likely to experience nasty side effects.
If, conversely, you work nights frequently, or always, then it would be best to stay away from caffeine, as well as energy drinks and anything too strong. To have more energy, you can try and drink green tea (which has a much lower caffeine content) or even raw juices, which are packed full of vitamins and minerals.
5. Avoid eating too many carbs
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source, so if you don’t eat enough, it will be hard to stay awake until late. Unfortunately, eating too many carbs (especially simple carbs such as candy or sugary drinks) will have the same effect.
Though sugar instantly boosts your energy, it also causes blood glucose fluctuations, which can lead to tiredness and mood swings. To keep energy levels stable throughout the shift, avoid eating carb-rich meals: they certainly taste good, but they can also make you sleepy.
6. Bring blue light glasses
As we’ll see in a bit, it’s important that you go to bed immediately after the end of your shift, so you can sleep enough hours before (or during) the following day. But if you are exposed to bright light throughout the shift, or even as you drive back home, you may find it difficult to “turn off” your body.
One simple solution you can use to fall asleep faster is to wear blue light blocking glasses toward the end of the night shift, and until you actually go to bed. They will protect your eyes from blue light, thus making it easier to switch to sleep mode. Many people swear by them, and they’re not too expensive, so give them a try.
Now, this is very subjective, and different people will experience different effects, so I encourage you to experiment with this and see what happens. In general, moving your body before your shift — even if it’s just a thirty-minute walk — will energize your body and make it easier to stay awake throughout the night.
However, some people find that doing nothing in the afternoon helps them preserve energy for the shift; exercising and working at night would be too exhausting. So again, give this a try and see if it helps. Keep in mind, in this case light exercise is probably the best alternative.
8. Use your breaks efficiently
If your goal is to keep your energy levels stable and be awake throughout the whole night shift, then I encourage you to keep your mind alert during your breaks. You can text a friend who’s still awake, read a book, or play games on your phone; anything that stimulates the brain.
On the other hand, if you get a long break and you’re allowed to sleep, you may as well use the break to rest; but I recommend you do this only if you’re extremely tired. By sleeping during the shift, you’ll find it harder to go to bed when you get home (and your body doesn’t like to take very short naps anyway).
9. Dress properly
Have you ever noticed that your body cools down before it falls asleep? If you’re not used to staying up until late, especially at work, you may start to feel a bit cold toward the end of the shift (even if the temperature is perfect).
It’s definitely not a pleasant feeling, so if you need to work nights make sure you dress properly. Wear clothes that are comfortable, but most importantly bring extra clothes with you in case it gets a little bit too cold. There’s nothing worse than freezing for hours and having to do work.
10. Plan your days off
An extra dose of motivation always helps, so before you work nights, plan what you will be doing on your well deserved days off. Even when work is boring, it won’t be as much of a drag if you are excited for what comes next.
One thing to keep in mind is that on your first day off you are likely to feel a bit tired, even if you’ve slept enough, and the best thing to do would be to simply relax and do nothing in particular. Then, once you have recharged, on your second or third day off you can be more active.
11. Bring snacks
The eleventh tip to prepare for a night shift is to bring enough snacks, so your body will have the fuel to go through the whole shift. As we’ve seen, you should avoid consuming too many simple carbs, but also meals that are hypercaloric as they are likely to make you sleepy.
Ideally, since you’ll have the whole day available, you can spend an hour or so to prepare your meals and snacks in advance: you’ll save money, and ensure you eat the right food.
12. Sleep immediately after the shift
The last thing to keep in mind whenever you have to work nights is to resist the temptation to stay up and have breakfast, or brunch, and just go to sleep. After a shift, your body has already endured work, and there’s definitely no need to do anything else.
So as soon as you finish your shift, go back home, make sure your room is dark and quiet (if it isn’t, you can wear earplugs or listen to white noise), and get some much needed rest. This is especially important if you’re supposed to work again the following day.
Psst! Check out my post about the pros and cons of working nights as well 😊