How to work night shift and stay healthy: 19 tips for success

An electrical engineer wearing a reflective jacket and hard hat is illuminated against a dark background while using a walkie talkie.Image: An electrical engineer wearing a reflective jacket and hard hat is illuminated against a dark background while using a walkie talkie.

In a Nutshell

Working night shifts can lead to shift work disorder, a condition associated with insomnia, mood disorders and poorer cognitive functions. However, there are some things you can do that may alleviate these problems if you need to work untraditional hours. Check out our list of 19 tips for a few ideas.
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Many employees may find night shifts difficult to work because of the health impacts from working odd hours. However, following a few mindful practices might make working the night shift a little easier on your health.

Continue reading to learn about the risks associated with working night shifts and tips for prioritizing your mental and physical well-being if you’re working nontraditional hours.

Risks of working the night shift

Our bodies have a circadian rhythm that signals us when to be active and when to be restful throughout the day. Think of this as our natural alarm clock — it dictates to our brains the approximate time to get up for the day and lie down for a good night’s rest. This schedule also helps regulate our digestive system, body temperature and more.

Night shifts can pose health risks by disrupting the body’s circadian system and thwarting its natural sleep patterns. Without proper self-care, there’s the potential to develop health issues such as diabetes and mood disorders. That’s why if you work night shifts, it can be important to take the time to prioritize your mental and physical health.

How to work the night shift: Tips for staying healthy and productive

Though night shifts may provide a good salary, remember that nothing is more valuable than your mental and physical health. With these tips and tricks, you can take on your night shifts knowing you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up for success throughout the night.

1. Set a sleep schedule

Developing a consistent sleep routine is crucial to your body’s ability to recover, regulate emotions and make wise decisions. If you don’t mind a schedule that involves napping, you could try resting from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and napping from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to prepare for your shift. If naps aren’t for you, consider sleeping from 6 a.m. to noon before going to work.

2. Consume caffeine in moderation

Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea can be helpful for those trying to maintain the energy levels needed to carry out their responsibilities throughout the night. However, caffeine can also interfere with your ability to sleep, so remember to stop drinking it about eight hours before you plan to go to sleep.

3. Eat healthy foods

Eating foods high in sugar can make the night shift more difficult by causing irritability and stomach discomfort. Pack nutritious snacks and meals like salads, fruits, veggies and trail mix.

You may find it easiest to prepare your meals at the start of the week. This can help reduce the time you spend getting ready for your shift the day of. Cooking at home can also be more affordable since it can help you avoid eating out.

4. Stay hydrated

Stay awake and energized by drinking enough fluids during your shift. This also helps to ensure your bodily functions are working properly since we rely heavily on water to keep our systems running.

5. Exercise regularly

Incorporating an exercise routine into your workweek is one way to invest in yourself, and it may help you feel more energized when taking on night shifts. If exercise feels overwhelming, it’s OK to start small. Find simple activities you enjoy, like biking or hiking, that will allow you to get some fresh air and work in some cardio.

6. Schedule night shifts close together

If you’re having trouble getting used to the odd hours, try scheduling night shifts consecutively. This might help you create a routine and allow you to take advantage of the daytime.

7. Avoid alcohol

Using alcohol to fall asleep faster can disrupt the amount of quality sleep you get after your shift. Though it can induce sleep, alcohol can also disturb sleep, which influences your creative problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

8. Use free time wisely

It’s natural to want to use your off days to do something fun and exciting. Keep in mind, though, that it may be helpful to keep a relatively consistent schedule — even on your days off. Irregular sleep routines can make it harder to fall and stay asleep, so use your free time wisely.   

9. Keep your household in the loop

If you live with other people, keeping them updated on your work schedule might help them create a space that accommodates your sleep requirements. You can also plan the meals you’ll be able to eat together to continue making time for each other.

10. Take nap breaks

Take advantage of your break times by fitting in one or two strategically timed naps. Both long naps and short naps may improve your workplace performance. If possible, find a dark, quiet space to rest without interruption.  

11. Prioritize self-care

Working night shifts may negatively impact your mental health if it disrupts your sleep. Prioritizing self-care practices like meditation, yoga and other forms of therapy might help you stay connected to yourself and how you’re feeling. When compared to those not familiar with yoga, a group of experienced yoga practitioners experienced significantly better mental well-being, according to a 2019 study.

12. Design a sleep-friendly bedroom

Once you’re finally able to go to sleep, it may help to have an environment that allows you to fall asleep as quickly as possible. Try closing your blinds or getting blackout curtains to block out any unwanted light exposure. You may also want to purchase a white-noise machine.

13. Limit blue light

Blue light emitted from tech devices depletes your melatonin levels, which is a hormone that helps you sleep. Avoid using your phone or staring at the television before going to bed to try and maximize the amount of restful sleep you get. You can also invest in a pair of glasses that block blue light in the hours before heading to bed.

14. Keep warm

With your built-in thermostat, your body naturally raises your temperature during the day and reduces it at night. Try to remain comfortably asleep by wrapping up in a blanket when it’s cold and using a fan when it’s hot to keep your body temperature in your personal sweet spot.

15. Move around

Making time to take short walks throughout your shift may prevent you from falling asleep and keep your blood flowing properly throughout your body. Go on a walk every hour or so to stretch your legs and rejuvenate yourself.

symptoms-of-shift-work-sleep-disorderImage: symptoms-of-shift-work-sleep-disorder

16. Foster a community

Seek out fellow professionals or online forums where people can share their experiences and advice regarding taking on night shift hours. You could discuss healthy habits and routines that have helped you adjust to the job and maybe pick up some tips from others, too.

17. Try to get some sun

Those working night shifts may be more susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies known to affect bone health and calcium levels. After you get some sleep, try opening your curtains or going for a walk around the neighborhood to get some sunlight.

18. Find a class

If you’re a medical professional, the CDC offers resources on how to cope with night shift hours and adjust your schedule to support a healthy lifestyle. You may enjoy taking a look at it, even if you’re not a medical professional, for useful tips.

19. Talk to a doctor

Insomnia, depression and anxiety are symptoms someone might experience when taking on night shifts. Give yourself a month or so to try and adjust to your new schedule, and if these symptoms persist or worsen, seek out a doctor for advice. They may be able to advise you on how to better manage your symptoms.

What’s next: Find debt relief

While some may choose night shift work because of its unique benefits, others may choose these nontraditional hours in response to financial need.

If you have debt you took out as part of your career journey, you may have relief options available to you. Credit Karma’s relief road map helps connect you to government support and personalized debt relief options that may help relieve some financial burdens.

An infographic titled "How working the night shift impacts your health and productivity" featuring four sections containing information on how to prioritize your health along with common professions working graveyard hours. 

The first section features three illustrations side by side each with a statistic underneath. First is an illustration of a collar and tie, then a siren and last, a human head in profile with an image of dial where the brain would be. The statistics are: 15-20% of Americans work night shifts, shift work sleep disorder makes workers almost 2x more likely to report work errors and about 32% of night shift workers suffer from shift work disorder. 

The section beneath the statistics includes the same graphic of a human head with a dial, next to a list of symptoms of shift work sleep disorder which are irritability, fatigue, poor sleep quality, depression, anxiety, insomnia and lack of concentration. 

Beneath the list of symptoms are ten tips for staying healthy while working night shifts: Stay hydrated, eat healthy, exercise regularly, set a sleep schedule, prioritize self-care, take nap breaks, limit blue light, talk to a doctor, request consecutive shifts and drink caffeine in moderation. 

The last section highlights professionals who may work the night shift and their salaries. Each profession is listed within a white tile that features a small illustration representing the profession. An illustration of a cupcake for bakers with a salary of $29,750. An illustration of a lightning bolt for electricians with a salary of $60,040. An illustration of a flame for firefighters with a salary of $50,700. An illustration of a plane for flight attendants with a salary of $61,640. An image of a badge for police officers with a salary of $66,020. An illustration of a nurse's hat for registered nurses with a salary of $77,600. An illustration of a shield fo security guards with a salary of $31,470 and an illustration of a truck for truck drivers with a salary of $48,310.