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Health Awareness: Caring for Yourself While Shift Working

Updated on September 11, 2012

Why sleep is important

Humans are not nocturnal animals. Our circadian rhythm dictates that we sleep at night, regardless of what our pattern for falling asleep may be. Therefore, when we continuously stay awake through the night it circumvents the biological flow of our sleep cycle.

While there are special circumstances that propel us into pulling an ‘all-nighter’, such as cramming for final exams-although that is not recommended, it is the ongoing wakefulness during normal sleep hours that are problematic. However, if you are a night shift worker you may not have any choice but to stay awake while others enjoy dreamland.

In this case, it is important to know what you can do to enhance the quality of your life through this particular period of employment until other things change.

All I want is my SLEEP!

Lucky dog...that should be me!
Lucky dog...that should be me! | Source

Working the Graveyard Shift

Know what is expected of you during your shift. For example, are you allowed to rest on your break? Are you allowed to take a walk during your break? Is there more than one break for you to revive yourself?

Give yourself positive feedback and pep talks. If your mind stays in a negative mode it will be harder to focus and concentrate on the tasks at hand.

If you are expected to work the off shift consistently, work with your manager to group your days of work together in order to have your days off clustered. This will allow for more rest and recuperation before starting the insomnia cycle once more.

Find out if there is an end in sight-will this be a permanent, semi-permanent or temporary situation. Adjust accordingly.

If your manager expects you to swing between one week days and one weeknight shift find out if you can have one week off in between in order to readjust to your loss of sleep week.

How to prepare for a good sleep

Prepare for the hours of wakefulness by resting or napping prior to your shift. And, as you get into a routine this will become easier to do.

When returning from work, have a light breakfast and go directly to bed without too many distractions pulling you from your inclination to go to sleep immediately.

Do not stop to exercise. Exercise acts as a stimulant and ‘wakes’ you up.

Do not drink caffeine beverages during the last half of your shift. Caffeine is a stimulant and will keep you awake. This includes coffee, tea, cola, and any other caffeine drink. This would also include any stimulant pill that may be sold over the counter as a product to keep you awake.

Eat plenty of healthy, fresh food. Try to avoid snacking throughout the shift. Although many people do a steady 'graze' this will add unwanted weight onto your body throughout the year.

Take a multivitamin daily and drink plenty of water throughout the shift.

Insomnia: preparing a restful environment

If you have family members at home while you are sleeping remind them that their daytime is your bedtime and try to get them on board with being quiet. Perhaps they can spend time out of the home during the primary hours of your sleep cycle; or perhaps there is a designated area of the house they can stay in that is not in the immediate vicinity of the bedroom.

Knowing that you have a certain amount of control over family members doesn’t mean you have the same control over the neighbors. Those who have outdoor dogs that constantly bark can create ill feelings. A heart to heart chat may enlighten them to your dilemma.

Invest in a good pair of ear plugs-they work wonders! A fan that circulates air while giving off a soft whirring noise might be soothing. Eye shades are helpful, especially if you do not have good window blinds. Music played softly will help some, although it may be a distraction to others.

Window adjustment is a must for those sleeping during the day. If you have an opportunity, investing in window darkening curtains is beneficial. These are specially made to filter out the sunlight.

Keeping the temperature in the room adjusted to a level that enhances your sleep is something that is necessary for uninterrupted sleep. If it is too cold or too hot the body is uncomfortable.

Owning a good mattress and pillow(s) is another important investment. After being awake all night long the last thing you want is to toss and turn because the mattress is old, sagging or lumpy. You want something that will support your weight yet be soft enough to feel you are on a mattress-not the floor.


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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you, Ali Hassan Mallah. :)

    • Ali Hassan Mallah profile image

      Ali Hassan Mallah 

      6 years ago from Hyderabad, Sindh

      I agree with you. that is positive approach towards Health issues

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Crystal. I agree with you. I do a lot of my writing late at night because the house is quiet and all the 'distractions' are asleep, even now that I am on a day shift. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you found the tips useful.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      I like staying up late, but i don't think I would like working the night shift. I just like putzing about the house or watching movies late. Useful tips for anyone in this position. Voted up and more.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      I can completely relate to the meal times you've stated. I took my break at 1 a.m. on Friday and they had a breakfast bar going in the cafeteria, which I took advantage of.

      I had a craving for coffee last night about 3 and avoided it...there would be no sleep for me at 7:30 if I had ingested that or any type of caffeine at that hour. Thanks for the votes.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      8 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Good tips.

      Decades ago I worked the swing shift in a factory for several months. When I worked the 11 PM to 7 AM graveyard shift, I had breakfast circa 9 PM, bag lunch at work during my meal break circa 3 AM, and supper when I got home via a commuter train and bus at around 8 AM.

      I need more than half an hour between having coffee and going to bed. I avoid regular coffee past noon (or past 10 to 12 hours before bedtime).

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Bay girl Thanks for your update. I think of you and wonder how you are doing. Thanks for your input here. Take care.

    • baygirl33 profile image


      8 years ago from Hamilton On.

      Hi Denise!

      good hub.I agree that sleeping at night is healthier but sometimes that isn't possible.My husband worked 3 shifts all the time the kids were small and we had a gravel driveway right outside his window.So I really found your hub informative.

      He has passed recently and my house is lit up like a casino every night,which is not good either but seems like my fate.

      The best is to sleep in the dark though,so if the schedule is constant and you can darken and insulate the room,you're ok working at night.It's necessary sometimes in this economic time.

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Dahoglund-I can't seem to adjust to the night shift and it is especially difficult with a 'swing' shift, as you've mentioned. Thanks for your comments.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I have had jobs requiring night hours. The thing I disliked the most was when they changed shifts. That is, go from night hours to day hours and back again. I never got a chance to adjust.There are people who like night hours.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Oh, gosh, that's one more thing we have in common. My shifts are like that, all in a row. Sometimes I have actually four nights of 12 hrs. I am happy that you will be doing 8 hrs sometime soon. I won't do that unless I switch hospitals, but have a pension building in the one I am currently working at. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • picadilly profile image

      Priscill Anne Alvik 

      8 years ago from Schaumburg, IL

      I am a night shift person at a hospital...3 days, 12 hour shifts. Thankfully I have been able to manage so far, but am looking forward to school being over soon and maybe trying an 8 hour day shift in a different department. I am grateful I can sleep through anything during the now to catch up from last night. Your submission is great! Thank you!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Stephanie-thanks for sharing your experiences with this subject-always appreciate the votes up. I've realized, as spring is advancing and the sunlight is longer, that I cannot sleep well with just the blinds. Now I'm looking into a curtain to put over those.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      8 years ago from USA

      My husband worked a night shift for many years, and it was an adjustment for the whole family. Your advice is right on target, and he actually used many of your suggestions to help him rest like running a fan in the room, using room darkening shades and going directly to bed when he got home. Voted up and shared!

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi ddaider, thanks for your input. I do use earplugs now, but am contemplating the mask. I have one but haven't used it since Alaska when I had to sleep under the midnight sun. Good suggestion.

    • ddaider profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I had to work the night shift for 6 months, and I completely agree that it takes some time to get used to. I found that using a mask and earplugs would help me sleep better through the day.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Right, Jason, I think that the 'deep sleep' REM level is a huge help in feeling completely rested. :)

    • Jason Lim profile image

      Jason Lim 

      8 years ago from Singapore

      Great tips here Denise, this should help many people out there struggling with graveyard shifts.

      The key is really to minimise any sort of sleep interruptions so that you can stay in the 'Deep Sleep Phase'.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      K9-I enjoyed your comment. I had to smile about the comment about Beauty, LOL Of course you would notice that. :) I didn't realize that you were on rotating shifts when you were in law enforcement. And, I thought the police officers were grumpy when they didn't get enough donuts, LOL

      Hi Linda-I know what you mean...the job is gruelling when you have the long drive on top of the actual work. You're right, it wasn't our time to go...:)

      Hi Sofs-thanks for reading and commenting.

      Hi Cara--yeah, now you know, I promise to be better. :)

      Debbie-thanks for reading and commenting.

      Rosemay-thanks for your feedback. I know those hours are very rough for people. Glad for you that you are not working those hours anymore.

      Ruby-you make a great point about the weight. I was going to add that in and forgot. In fact, that is when I regained my weight. Now, that I am back on midnight shift I am vigilant about keeping the wieight off and NOT returning to that cycle.

      Hi Danette, thanks for your support. We'll see what happens in the next year.

      Hi randomcreative-thanks for your input. As a wife of an intern you experience the disruption as well.

      Hi Simone-nice to see you here. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Hi Carol-yes, that is exactly what I try to do now. It seems to make a difference. Thanks for commenting.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      I have to first apologize to all of you for the long delay in my response. I was in my midnight shift mode, at which point I try to not even open my computer...too much of a distraction and I end up losing sleep and not functioning well at work. Which is the total point of this hub and the one previous to this.

      Second, thank you for reading and responding. I appreciate the time you take out of your schedule to read my work and comment. Many blessings to each of you.

    • carol3san profile image

      Carolyn Sands 

      8 years ago from Hollywood Florida

      Nice article Denise. I woked the night shift for many years when I was still working in the hospital. The most important thing for me was to go directly to sleep once I got home. Sometimes I was too tired to eat right away, but at least I was able to get my sleep. Voted up and useful.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      GREAT Hub! The one time I worked a night shift, it was in excellent conditions and entirely my choice, so I never found it difficult, but your advice is so great for those situations in which working by night is NOT ideal (and I'm sure most situations are less than desirable)

    • LindaSmith1 profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      All I can say is that Night Shift means No Life And No Sleep forget those pitiful bonuses, because all they mean is more taxes, and take home a dollar more. Whooppe. I needed sleep, forget the extra dollar.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 

      8 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      This is a great topic for a hub. My husband is a medical intern so he's had (and will continue to have) his share of overnights. It's wonderful that we 1) got a new bed right when he started intern year and 2) now have a house so it's easy to stay in separate areas while he's sleeping. It's is still not easy, though, especially when your schedule changes all the time. Thanks for the great tips!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      I've worked midnights before but not for any length of time. I really can't imagine having to do it and I know you don't want to be doing it either. I hope things change for the better for you.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Thankful that i no longer have to work the night shift. I never did adjust to the sleep deprivation. So many of the night nurses were overweight. Great info. Thank you.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 

      8 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      A great hub with some very good advice and tips.

      Back in my 20's I had to work nights, 10-6, 6 days on and 2 off for 7 months. My sleep pattern got worse as the months past the longer I worked nights, the more sleep I needed, until I was getting home at 7am, breakfast and sleep until 8pm, a quick bath and snack and setting off to work again at 9pm. All I did was work and sleep, I was living to work, so I gave it up. I missed the good money but I got my life back. No my body just could't cope with it. But if I had read your advice back then it might have been different.

      This hub will no doubt be a great help to others now working shifts. Good job and voting up

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 

      8 years ago from Greece

      I've never done night shifts as such, but I did do a few years of having to get up at 3.30am to go to work - luckily it was only during the summer months and only a couple of times a week, but it was enough to upset my sleep pattern and effect the way I felt. I rarely got to go to bed later in the day due to having a young family. I invested in ear plugs and an eye mask to make sure I got an undisturbed sleep on other nights, they are brilliant and would recommend them to anyone who gets disturbed sleep,I still use them now.

      Your hub is well written and contains some good tips for those night workers!!

    • cardelean profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Your daughter knows now! You'd better be careful lady!!! Great suggestions. Sorry that you have to carry the burden of this shift. :(

    • sofs profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow Denise, Thank God I don't have to be awake at night, I just can't. Even a few hours of sleep deprivation lessens my concentration... Great tips here!

    • LindaSmith1 profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      I don't do it anymore. Only work at home now. Was working around the clock taking care of Michael, but he is gone now, so it is just me and I can nap anytime I want, work when I want, etc.

      I was 25 miles away from job. I had to allow an hour drive depending on traffic and it if was tourist season or not.

      Thank God you woke up too. I guess it was not our time.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      Working for years in law enforcement took its toll, as three rotating shifts every three months annihilated any chance at "normal sleep." No wonder cops get so grumpy! Great tips here Denise, linking in for some HubLove!

      BTW, I adore your Lucky Dog Image!



    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Linda-I know how frightening that was for you-I've done the same, god forbid my kids ever knew this...only my wake up was on the other side of the road in oncoming traffic. I'm fortunate that my drive is five minutes from my workplace for where I sleep during my shifts. My drive home, unfortunately, is an hour away. Now, I sleep for a few hours for before I head onto my home. I agree with you-my favorite shift is 3-11pm. Blessings to you.

      Hi Kyoutohru-well, not sure WHAT your age is, but I'm suspecting you are a whole lot younger than this filly! So...take it from me-I did my research and the stats show that YES aging, along with other stress related diseases, occur more readily in night shift workers. Don't plan on doing it for a lifetime or it may be cut shorter than you expected. As for sleeping on the job-not sure what you do, (hope it isn't as an Air traffic controller, LOL) be careful. I had a co-worker who was fired on the spot for falling asleep on the job. Get up and move around when you get sleepy. Good luck and thanks for reading/commenting.

      Hi rasta1-LOL oh heck, pull the all nighter and then sleep all day tomorrow! I know I have. That is one thing I have not mentioned in this hub-that when people continuously work that shift they don't easily go back into the regular sleep time like 'normal' people. I'm finding that at least for the first day off I end up being 'on alert' and awake at the later hours as if I was working. Thanks for reading and commnenting.

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 

      8 years ago from Jamaica

      I was planning to do a all nighter. good looking out.

    • Kyoutohru profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm working night shift and on my working hours I fell asleep two times on my station for two hours. Well, luckily I woke up. There's just two of us working at night, and my boss isn't around so I didn't got fired yet. LOL.

      Thanks for those tips, now I'm a bit conscious of taking snacks during my shift.

      Oh! made me worried that working at night as Denise mentioned, causes aging..

    • LindaSmith1 profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      I got cured of night shift, when I fell asleep at the wheel. Fortunately, I woke up when the car hit shoulder of road, and no other cars coming at the time. Give me 3-11 anytime. I don't know how anybody manages 12 hour shifts. Face it, hospitals and other employers don't care about workers or who they affect by these ridiculous split shifts, on 2 weeks on one shift, then change it to different hours for 2 weeks, the 12 hour shifts, etc., as long as they save a buck.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Emma-thanks for reading...that was quick! Night shift...well, it is hard on the body and ages you, too!

      Hi thoughtforce-I think your description is very accurate. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Hi Linda-omg I hear you. I am currently working 12 hr night shifts and dislike it, but it pays the bills. Take care. :)

    • LindaSmith1 profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      When I worked nights, I worked and slept. It was others who did not understand that my sleep time was while they were awake, and I was working while they slept at night.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      8 years ago from Sweden

      Great tips, you cover the topic completely! The preparations are so important and must be done! I liked to work night shift and the silence but I hated to sleep during the days and to wake up in the afternoons was a horror. I needed several days to feel like a human after working several nights in a row. So it didn't suit me at all. I was constantly feeling tired and lived as if I was in a bubble where everything was misty. It is almost scary how the personality can change when we don't get enough sleep. Voted up, and useful,


    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 

      8 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      I have done my fair share of night shifts in my time, and they really do not suit me at all. Even when I napped in the day before my shift, I still suffered in the night. Some people prefer them, but it might be the quiet and the night rate they like, rather than being awake all night. Your tips are good though for anyone who has to work these unsociable hours.


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