Working night shifts can be disorienting and upsetting, especially at the beginning. These tips can help with the adjustment process.
You don’t need a science degree to figure out that people need sleep. But countless research points to the same conclusion: insufficient sleep can cause a wide range of physical and mental health problems, from poor judgment to depression to heart disease. And ideally, humans should get the sleep they need at night and stay active during the day.
But what if your job won’t allow a natural sleep cycle? Healthcare personnel and shift workers often find themselves coming home when everyone else is climbing out of bed, and while this can be uncomfortable and disorienting, few institutional resources are available to help newer workers deal with the effects.
When struggling employees ask their supervisors for guidance, they’re often dismissed with instructions to “Just make the best of it,” or “Try yoga.” If you work the night shift and you’re having a hard time adjusting, keep these tips in mind. ( to tweet this list.)
1. Develop a long-term timeline
You can maintain this lifestyle — for now. Powering through may be your best and only option. But if you know you can’t live this way forever, pick a point in the future when you’re sure the lifestyle will stop.
Let your boss know that you’ll need to switch to day shifts within six months or one year, and if this doesn’t happen, have a plan in mind to elsewhere. (By the time you reach this deadline, you may have adjusted.)
2. Try yoga
The suggestion may seem dismissive, but attending a yoga class even once a week may have noticeable benefits. While you’re doing this, make a deliberate effort to eat healthier foods (including leafy green veggies and whole grains) and at least 10 minutes every day.
3. Find someone to talk to
You may not need a licensed therapist, but find someone in your circle of family and friends who knows what it’s like to work at night. Lean on this person when you need to share what you’re going through. The experience can be surreal and isolating, and your coworkers may be reluctant to talk about it, since (like you, probably) they don’t want to advertise their struggles.
4. Respect your daytime sleep and insist that others respect it too
If your children, spouse or roommates can’t leave you in peace during the day, seriously about what you’re going through and be clear about what you need from them (e.g., a quieter space, less light, a room on the non-street side of the house, fewer interruptions).
5. Develop rituals that mark the distinction between “night” and “day”
When you wake up, follow a set of behaviors that train your brain to accept this hour as “morning.” Brewing coffee and making a daily ritual of breakfast can help. A few morning exercises can also help. Keep the pattern similar each day.
6. Recognize what’s happening to you
Mental and physiological changes often have more damaging effects when they’re not expected or understood. A sudden burst of tears, unexplained anger or clumsiness may not feel directly connected to your sleep habits, and you may not technically feel tired when you experience them. But recognize these as the signs and symptoms of disrupted sleep, and know that when your body adjusts to its new schedule, these will probably subside.
is a career advisor and job search expert who provides consultation for staffing firms, hiring managers and job seekers across every industry. Her blogs and articles appear regularly on , home of .