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8 Tips for Staying Awake During a Night Shift

Because we live in a modern society that is constantly up and running, almost 15 million people work night shifts, evening shifts or work full-time or any other combination of a schedule. The sad reality is that almost 12 per cent of adults work about 48 hours or more per week and more than 7 per cent work even over 60 hours per week. Having long work hours and working in shifts has been proved to be associated with many health issues according to the study at the National Sleep Foundation. Some of the health issues are gastrointestinal difficulties, metabolic problems and heart diseases. 

Working night shifts can also hinder your body’s capability to repair DNA damage that happens as the normal cellular processes. The lack of melatonin, that is responsible for your internal body clock working properly, plays a great role when it comes to being healthy. 


Many individuals need to work night shifts for a lot of different reasons. Therefore, it is very important that you find a way to cope with it and stay healthy while working them as the risks are elevated while working night shifts.

Manage Your Sleep Pattern

There are some people who can work through their night shift without any problems, but there are some that experience severe fatigue and sleep deprivation. That happened because the human body is programmed to sleep at night instead of work. Our bodies are controlled by something called an internal body clock which is located in our suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. It generates the circadian rhythm which is used to regulate our behaviour and other psychological processes in our bodies including staying alert, hormone production, sleep patterns and controlling the body temperature. Our bodies function in 24-hour cycles that are influenced by dark cycles and natural light. Most of the processes in our bodies that are active in the daytime will slow down in nighttime to prepare you for sleeping. During the nighttime, your body is producing melatonin which causes you to feel sleepy and being less alert. 

Working night shifts will cause disbalance of natural rhythms by being alert and awake when you are supposed to be sleeping. And vice versa when you come home after your night shift and go to sleep the light exposure will tell you to stay awake. 

An adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep to perform their best. If you sleep less than 7 hours you will be considered sleep-deprived. When you are working night shifts you need to manage your sleep patterns during the day to keep your sleep deprivation to the minimum. Sleeping during the daytime the quality of your sleep will be poorer, lighter and shorter, because of the light, temperature and noise. 

Here are some tips you can follow to get good quality sleep.

  • Don’t postpone going to bed. The longer you postpone it the more awake you will get because of the light. 
  • Plan to have a 7 to 9-hour slot that is just dedicated to sleeping after a night shift. 
  • Eat and drink something before you go to bed, so you don’t wake up because you are thirsty or hungry during your sleep. 
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking before you go to sleep. 
  • Make sure that your room is dark, quiet and a cozy temperature. If you are easily woken up, you can wear earplugs to block out any daytime noise. Use blackout curtains so you prevent any daylight from coming into your room. 
  • Tell your friends that you are off your shift and that you are going to sleep so they don’t bother you. Also, put your phone on do not disturb so it doesn’t wake you up.

If your shift is just partly nighttime, keep in mind that the more times in a row you work through the nights the more sleep deprived you will accumulate during it. The sooner you replenish the sleep that you lost the faster you will recover from working night shifts. 

Take Naps

Taking a nap is the key to being safe while you are working a night shift. Even though a quick nap before your night shift will most likely fight fatigue, a nap during your break at work can be vital for staying vigilant and staying alert. When you take a nap midway through your shift you will boost and rehabilitate your brainpower. A nap that is 20 to 45 minutes long has quite a few benefits as it neutralizes the feeling of being fatigued. It is not advised to exceed 45 minutes, because then you will be more tired. That is because our sleep is made out of stages, which come in cycles between 90 and 100 minutes. The sleep cycle goes from light sleep to deep sleep. So, you have to be careful how long your naps are because you don’t want to get into the deep sleep cycle and then have to wake up in the middle of it to continue working. Waking up at the beginning of the deep sleep cycle can cause you to feel more tired and much less alert. 

Handle Your Caffeine Intake Wisely

As we all know caffeine is a popular stimulant. When you consume is carefully a daily dose of coffee will help you stay alert through your night shift. But, if you drink too much caffeine you can cause a serious problem in your body. It can lead to muscle shakes, anxiety and an upset stomach. A lot of people take one huge dose of caffeine before going into their shift to give them a jump start. But what people don’t know is that taking a smaller dose of your at work coffee more frequently through your shift will help you more. That is because that way you will enhance your wakefulness and perform better overall during your night shift because you are constantly boosting your body with small amounts of caffeine. 

Avoid Contact With Light Before Bed

As we have mentioned before, our bodies produce melatonin that helps us sleep and it is affected by light and darkness. But, avoiding light before bed can be tricky for night shift workers as you need to get home in the morning. Light can make your body and mind feel energised when you are trying to go to sleep. Because you can’t control the sun, try to keep your screen time at a minimum to help you fall asleep. To help yourself fall asleep easier try to wear an eye mask and put up darkening curtains on your windows to keep any rays of sun coming into your room while you are trying to fall asleep.  

Stay Hydrated

Water is the most important thing in life. That also makes it an essential thing you need in order to survive a long night shift. You need to stay hydrated but not too hydrated because you will then need to take constant breaks to use the restroom. Drinking plenty of water will increase the oxidation of your blood level and that will make you more alert and help you to stay awake during a long night shift. Keep your water in the fridge in a thermos so it refreshes you even more. 

Keep Moving

If you start dozing off while you are working a great way to stay awake is by moving your body. Try to find an activity you can do that requires you to be moving while still doing your job. If you are having a slow shift you can organise or count the supplies and make sure that everything is in its place and ready to be used. You can even do a couple of squats or jumping jacks to get your blood flowing but not using too much of the energy that you need for the actual work. 

Don’t Let Your Brain Wander

When you are working your night shift, your mind is probably wondering and you are thinking about sleeping in your nice warm bed. Those kinds of thoughts are only going to make you sleepier and difficult to stay awake. Instead of thinking about your bed, think about places where you are active. Try to think about going rock climbing or going for a swim in the ocean or something that you like that requires physical activity. That way you will be more alert and your mind will be able to focus on what you are doing. 

Watch What You Eat

When you replace the day with the night your whole body is thrown off especially your metabolism. People who are working the night shift are more likely to experience their metabolism slowing down. Because of that, you need to plan your meals so that both you and your metabolism are awake. It is good to stick to the same meal plan you would as you would follow when you are working day shifts. 

  • Try to eat light frequent meals and healthy snack to avoid feeling lethargic after eating heavy meals
  • Eat meals that are easy to digest like rice, pasta, bread, salads, fruits or vegetables. 
  • Try to avoid fried, spicy and processed meals, because they are hard to digest.
  • Don’t eat sugary foods because even though they provide an instant high they are followed by a quick low.
  • Choose healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables because they have natural sugars, vitamins and minerals that will make you more awake. 

Visit your local grocery store and pick the right foods that you will prepare for yourself to eat on a long hard night shift. Taking food to work is a great way to fuel your tired body and stay alert and concentrated on the work that you need to do.

 

We are all different, so finding the right way that you can combat fatigue during your long work hours will take some time. Staying awake and alert during your night shift is difficult but it’s not impossible. With time you will create the right routine that will make the shift tolerable and somewhat enjoyable. 

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Alexis Walker
Alexis is a Sydney-based part-time writer and a full-time mom of two. Her words carry the richness of her travelling and parenting adventures, offer advice and inspiration to those who desire to improve their lives. Outside of the office, she takes pleasure in spending precious time with her youngsters and absorbing the happiness they constantly radiate.

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