Your ultimate survival guide to working night shifts

When working night shifts it's important for your body to adjust to the late hours (Shutterstock.com)

For your well-being we have composed the ultimate survival guide to working night shifts safely.

If you are a police officer, a doctor, a nurse, a paramedic, a fire-fighter, a factory worker or part of an office cleaning staff, chances are you have to work night shifts. When working night shifts you are at risk of developing a serious sleeping disorder. People suffering from shift work sleeping disorder have higher rates of absenteeism and accidents related to sleepiness than night workers without the disorder. For your well-being we have collated the ultimate survival guide to working night shifts safely.

Before starting your shift

1. Give your body a three-day warning. Start preparing your body for a new sleep-wake schedule by trying to change your internal clock. Start sleeping in and postponing your bedtime a little bit more every day so your body will be used to this new rhythm by the time you start working your shifts. For example, if you went to sleep at 9pm and woke up at 6 today, sleep at 11 and wake up at 9 tomorrow, and continue this pattern.

2. Avoid frequently rotating shifts. Try to have the same shift hours every day. If that’s not possible, make sure your shifts rotate clockwise: every next shift should start later than the one before. For example if you have worked the morning shift today, don’t move to the night shift tomorrow, but rather move to the afternoon shift.

3. Stick to one regular sleep-wake schedule. If you keep changing your sleep-wake schedule, you will constantly feel jet lagged. Try to sleep between the same hours every day.

Read: Why we are always more tired on Mondays

4. Make it a family affair. Make some very clear agreements beforehand. Ask your family to limit the visitors and loud phone calls during your sleeping time. Don’t commit to waking up for anything, like for instance packages arriving because you’re home anyway. They wouldn’t get up at 3 a.m. if a package would be arriving for you either.

5. Pass up on opportunities. Shift work will take its toll on your body and on your social life. Even If you need the extra cash, think twice before accepting opportunities to work overtime or skip your days off. The price you’ll pay in the long run might be higher than the additional money.

During your shift

6. Limit caffeine. In the beginning of your shift you can of course drink coffee, but starting from a couple of hours before the end of your shift, try drinking water. Water is, believe it or not, the absolute number one element that will benefit you when working night shifts.

7. Make healthy food choices. Your selection will have a significant effect on your energy and performance levels. Choose meals and snacks that will provide energy, but without a crash-and-burn effect in the long run.

8. Put on the brightest possible light. Working in bright light will give your body the impression that you’re working during the day and will keep you alert. Try to expose yourself to bright lights from the moment you wake up until the end of your shift. While going home, try to already block sunlight out so your body knows it’s almost time to go to sleep.

9. Bond with the team. After your shift, have a debriefing with the whole team where you can rant together about how much you hate working night shifts. You will realise that you’re far from the only one having these issues, and it will help keep you sane.

Read: Do you know where the secret to success lies?

After your shift

10. Get home safely. If you feel like you’re too tired to drive, get a taxi or phone a friend. Just don’t take the risk, it’s not worth it.

11. Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep. Invest in good curtains or a comfortable eye mask. Not sleeping enough or not sleeping deep enough will cause sleep disorder.

12. Invest in earplugs. Next to switching out the lights, you should channel out the noise as much as possible as well to ensure a good night sleep.

13. Monitor your health. Your well-being should always be a priority, no discussion.

14. Forget the quick fix. Everybody will give you advice about what will help to fall asleep and online you will find thousand kinds of shady drugs. Don’t. Go to a doctor or sleeping expert who will help you find the right sleeping method and who will prescribe the proper medication when necessary.

15. Get active. Once you wake up, go outdoors into the sunlight. Your biological clock will adjust more easily.

Do you have what it takes to be a nurse or another kind of night shift worker? Start applying for jobs here.