Health & Wellness Articles

How to Work the Third Shift and Stay Healthy

Tips on Sleep, Nutrition and At-Work Activities

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The third shift. Unavoidable for some. Dreaded by many. At a time when it’s difficult just to stay awake, you are expected to function at a reasonable level. Unfortunately, laboring through the night can wreak havoc on your body, weakening your immune system and causing a destructive decrease in energy. It’s difficult for the body’s internal clock to adapt to shift work, and laboring through the night often causes insomnia and indigestion. It becomes even trickier if you have to switch between day and night shifts. So, if you are one of the millions of people that work the third shift, check out our healthy tips to combat the damage it can do to your body.

Sleep
It’s often the hardest element to "get right" if you are working late. Your body is ready to crash halfway through the shift, but when you return home your family is up and about. Spending quality time with them often stands in the way of enough sleep, and it’s almost impossible to choose between the two. What can you do?

Sleep is one of the most important gifts you can give your body. But you are fighting your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle by staying up through the night, and sleep loss can be dangerous. Even if you are sleeping during the day instead of the night, you still need an average of eight hours to keep your body functioning properly. It’s important to make this a continuous eight hours, too.

Often, third shift workers break up their sleep in order to spend more time with loved ones and do activities that they enjoy. Of course, this is key to a happy life and positive relationships, but it keeps your body from going through the proper sleep cycles, rotating from light to deep sleep. If you are sleeping for a few hours in the morning and then an hour or so before work, your body will not be rested enough and ready for the next shift.

Sure, it’s easy to talk about being well rested, but when it comes down to actually doing it, it's easier said than done. Even if you are good about laying down into bed to catch some zzz’s, your environment, from your kids are bouncing around outside your door to your neighbor cutting grass might stand in the way.

Here are some ideas on how to fall asleep quickly and soundly:
  • Have a sleep ritual. Go to sleep as soon as you can after work. Don't get caught up in chores, errands, and scheduling. Save this for later when you can devote your full attention to them. Come home from work, relax in the bath with a book, and then hit the hay.
  • If you are exposed to a lot of sunlight right after work, your body will perk up and make sleep difficult. Don’t stay outside longer than necessary before bed and make your room as dark as possible, even if you must resort to blinds, curtains, or a sleep mask.
  • To keep disturbing noise to a minimum, invest in a good set of ear plugs. Unplug the phone in your room. Talk to your family members about taking extra care to be quiet.
  • Avoid the overuse of sleep aids. Sure, they can be a temporary solution, but in the long run they could cover up a larger problem. They are not actually helping your body clock to adjust, so talk to your doctor before using these. (Same goes for alcohol. It might make you sleep faster, but you won’t sleep as soundly.)
  • Avoid caffeine. It might help you make it through your shift, but if you drink coffee too close to bedtime, you’ll have a terrible time trying to fall asleep.
Nutrition
Eating healthy when your timetable seems so backwards is difficult. To maintain a nourishing diet, it’s vital to adjust your meal routine around your schedule. Do not skip meals. To avoid pumping in empty calories from vending machines or fast food, plan ahead. It is easy to eat to pass the time, but you’ll gain weight this way. Bring a healthy meal with you to work.

Here are more nutritional tips:
  • Don’t eat a huge meal right at the end of your shift. It will just sit in your stomach as you try to sleep, leading to trouble digesting as well as disrupted slumber. Your body will have difficulty burning these extra calories and they can turn to fat.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout your shift. Dehydration can cause cramps and headaches, which can make your shift very unpleasant.
  • Fuel up on complex carbs; these will release energy slowly over a long period of time, versus quick sugar bursts that won't last too long. Also, protein will fuel your muscles throughout the night.
  • Time your meals and activities to match your "day."
It might seem like survival of the fittest. You are falling asleep standing one night, while your co-worker trots cheerily along. What gives? What is he doing that’s making him better equipped to handle the third shift? It probably has less to do with superhuman powers than you might think.

Here are some tricks that will make the time go by more easily:
  • On-the-job exercise can boost your alertness. If you have an extra break where you can get in a few minutes of a good workout, take advantage! If you can’t exercise at work, try doing it at other times. This will create better daytime sleep. A word of caution: Don’t work out right after you get home, before going to sleep. It will wake you up and make snoozing difficult. Try working out before you go to work instead.
  • Exposure to bright light will also improve your alertness. Obviously, if it’s dark out, this can’t come from a natural source. Turn on the lights!
  • Music helps to break up the monotony of a long shift. If you are allowed, bring in your own music. Use fast-paced sounds to pump you up when you are dragging towards the end of the shift.
  • Missing your family? Include scheduled time when you can call them, maybe right when they get up in the morning or before their bedtimes. Also, try keeping a bulletin board in your house where you can leave or receive messages. Write them notes, and they’ll return the favor.

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Member Comments

  • glad I don't have to do this any more....

    Im a morning person though and though
  • I know this is an old thread, but maybe someone out there can help me out. I work third shift in the military, in a laboratory. We get one 15 minute break per shift, and we cannot have food or water in the areas that I work (lots of microorganisms). Then to add insult to injury, we are required to perform physical training outside after shift. I have been working 11pm-9am for almost 4 years now, and still am unable to get into a working rhythm for restful sleep. I was prescribed a sleep aide, but taken off it because I was unreachable during daytime hours. I love the military life, I am proud to be making these sacrifices, but any help or tips would be greatly appreciated.
  • I work 7p-7a at a local hospital. Being up nights and sleeping days is not an issue, since I seem to have a natural rhythm for the night cycle. I've had to start hitting the gym or working out before work. Thankfully, my gym is right across the street and connected to the hospital complex. I also stop caffeine by 3am so I can sleep, and my bedroom has blackout curtains. My problem at work is eating. Our cafeteria has really good food, as well as having a Subway and a grill on site.
  • The exact cause or origin of Narcolepsy is not known nor is there a known cure for this kind of Hypersomnia. Narcolepsy can be treated for symptoms like after you buy Modvigil 200 mg from provigilstore.com and take for wakefulness and alertness for more than eight hours and luckily enough this medication is free from any severe or dangerous side effects
  • Working nights as a nurse wasn't an issue as I'm a natural night owl. What the issue was working split shifts, working shifts that had no rhythm and working overtime shifts. Those killed me. When I worked in a hospital with a consistent shift schedule change and stayed on one shift for a minimum of 2 weeks, working nights was a breeze.
  • UNBREAKABLE1984
    I work third at a heldpdesk support line. I eat heavy protien, and complex carbs for my " breakfast " and snack lightly on mixed vegetables, apples,and oranges through out the night. On my breaks and 30mins interverles , I do 10 push ups, 30 second plank, and 10 more to keep my mind and body moving. I try not to stay sitting too long else it's a **** to get started again.!
  • SLICKJ03
    I'm working 5pm-8am or later every weekday and sundays 9pm-8am or later. I'm losing an awful amount of weight because I don't have time to eat, much less exercise. I'm also losing my mind I think. I'm on my feet all day running around like a chicken with its head cut off so I guess it's enough exercise? I'd really like to get more weight on me again tho. Should I try ankle weights or something?
  • PWEBER31
    I'm about a month into my night schedule and the hardest part is sleeping consistently. I find myself waking up a lot before I'm supposed to be up. I read another article today that offered some great tips that I'm going to try: http://worknights
    hift.com/nigh
    t-shift-sleep-tips/
  • Getting a good night sleep is critical for my wife who is a nurse and does night shifts. Black out blinds have been a huge help. They completely cut out the daylight and trick her body into thinking it is night.

    We founds a great deal on blinds from this site:

    http://shadewor
    kswindowfashi
    ons.ca/sleep-
    expert-top-ti
    ps-night-shift-workers/
  • JUDYGAYLE59
    I work 1130pm-730am Thurs, 830pm-730am Fri, 1130pm-730am Sat, 730pm-730am Sun. Hardest part for me is missing my family. And now that we are getting closer to summer, being able to spend time outside. I try to be in bed by 10am at the latest. Then wake between 330pm-530pm so I can fix dinner for my son, visit a bit, get ready for work and on the late start nights, I will try to lay down for an hour or so before work. I stay on this schedule on my days off. I tried flipping to a day schedule on days off and it was terrible! I need to keep on my work schedule all week to get any sleep at all.
  • DBOSWORTH31
    I work two jobs one being full time and the other being part time. The full time job is physically demanding to a degree and the secondary job is mentally demanding as well as potentially time consuming.

    Over the past couple of months I've been using Neuro Force - Adrafinil, an over the counter drug that is the precursor to Modafinl (provigil/nuvigil
    ) that is prescribed to overnight workers and to help combat jet lag.

    I've found Adrafinil to be extremely beneficial and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't get enough rest or who has to work long/odd hours. You can find out more about Adrafinil online at either wikipedia or at https://www.smart
    drugsforthoug
    ht.com/what-i
    s-adrafinil/
  • ALEXKATT
    I delivery papers ( yes people still read them!), starting at 2am untill 6 am. Trying to find time to anything or eat correctly is hard. Let alone finding time to exercise! I think I have put on 25 pounds since starting at the start of the year, bleh !
  • I work the 3rd shift and I firmly believe that in order to be successful at it, one MUST be disciplined! I work from home. I get off at 6am. I brush my teeth,use the bathroom, and take my night time meds and go down immediately. I must do so in order to be up in the afternoon when my daughter is home from school. Works perfect for me!!
  • I work 830p-7a. I wake up at 5pm to cook dinner (left overs are usually my lunch) for the fam, and I go to bed at 9 am. If I stay up as late as 10am (and see daylight), I won't sleep. Oddly enough, when I get off work at 7am, I go for a run and it DOES NOT keep me up. If fact, run days are the days i sleep the best. I guess I am winding downin the shower, so by the time I am in bed at 9, my body just relaxes and I am asleep within minutes which is something I never did before I started nights.

    I can't run when I wake up. No time, no energy

About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.