8 Energy Tips from night shift workers
Up all night? Get back on track with suggestions from people who work the graveyard shift for a living.
Staying up all night doesn’t leave anyone feeling refreshed, revitalized, and ready to go. But for many people—doctors, nurses, bartenders, call attendants, or police officers who work night shifts—working all night is a day-to-day reality.
The problem is, shift work doesn’t just leave us zonked. The World Health Organization considers it a probable carcinogen—and research suggests that if you spend your nights wide awake, you’re more likely to suffer not just from certain kinds of cancer but also diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cognitive impairment.
That’s why many overnight workers fight back harder, mastering the art of maintaining a healthy diet, an exercise schedule, and a sleep routine despite less-than-ideal circumstances. So next time you find yourself lacking serious Zzzs, consider their tips to find the energy and make it through the day like a healthy human.
Heat Things Up
Coffee has its perks, but April Wachtel, a bartender says that her ideal trick for alertness involves another kind of hot liquid: jumping in the shower first thing in the morning. Brittney, 27, an administrator at a 24/7 call and support centre agrees, saying that a hot shower is usually enough to provide a short burst of (much-needed) energy.
The importance of a good cup of joe goes beyond caffeine: “Coffee is almost always the first thing I reach for in the mornings,” says Wachtel. “I love the ritual as much as the energy.” She’s onto something: Getting your body used to certain habits at certain times can help maintain regularity—and energy.
And while we all know the powers of caffeine, Deborah Rathz, M.D., Ph.D., a medical ICU and ER physician at a well-known Clinic, says that timing matters. “My day begins with a mug of dark roast coffee, whether I start at 7 a.m. or 11 p.m.” Feel yourself crashing midday? Try Rahtz’s trick and sip something like coconut chai tea—which has less caffeine than coffee. Then skip it later in the day—at least six or so hours before you hit the sack—so that it doesn’t mess with your next night’s sleep.
If you need something, you can try McNab’s Caffeine free Supercharge energy drink. This refreshing blackcurrant flavoured drink is blended with naturally energising herbs, Ashwagandha sourced from the tropics of India, and Siberian Ginseng.
Work Out In the Morning
It’s likely the last thing you want to do after a night without sleep: hit the pavement or sweat it out in the gym. But Chelsea Caracciolo, a clinical educator at a big hospital, says that exercise is her first move after an overnight shift. “In the summer, it’s a lot easier because the sun is usually too bright to allow me to fall asleep,” she says. “But I also find that working out in the morning after my shift allows for me to sleep a little bit longer.”
What are the best ways to sweat? Caracciolo opts for high-intensity cardio, like boxing or cycling. “It instantly jolts me awake, unlike most meditative, restful exercises like yoga.”
Look for Good-for-You Food
It stinks: Fast food always looks better on the days that we’re sleep-deprived. But reaching for it will only make you feel worse. That’s why Blaise, a 29-year-old administrator at a 24/7 call centre, stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. “I can’t stress that enough—lots of fruits and veggies,” he says. “It’s easy to grab a fast meal if you are tired, but I’ve found that that ends up draining my energy even more.”
In fact, after her overnight shifts, Avani Desai, M.D., an emergency medicine doctor at another major hospital usually heads to the grocery store for food—so that she knows there will be a good selection of fruits and vegetables. If you don’t have time for that, making sure the fridge is stocked and that you have snacks on hand can be the difference between an energy-sapping bacon, egg, and cheese and fueling meals and snacks all day long.
After all, your best bet is to avoid large meals that may send you into a food coma, says Rathz. For energy, she opts for small, frequent meals and snacks that are high in protein.
Skip Day Drinking
Up all night partying? Some people swear that a little hair of the dog takes the edge off, but Wachtel disagrees. “It just makes me more sleepy,” she says.
Even more: Alcohol can throw your sleep schedule even more out of whack than it already is. You can try McNab’s SuperCharge Tabs, lots of people swear by it after a heavy night’s partying.
If You Actually Work the Night Shift … Anchor Your Sleep
For night shift workers, Desai says that research shows the concept of anchor sleep—making sure you log the same four hours of sleep every day—is key. What that looks like: Make sure you’re in bed from 1 to 5 p.m. every day, for example; and add hours to that on either end. “It’s just so that you have some sort of regularity and schedule,” she says.