Day to Night: Ways to Ease Your Transition to Shift Work

“I just received a great job offer in a field I’m interested in, but here’s the catch—it’s a night shift job. I want the position, but working at night would be a big change for me. Any suggestions or advice?” Max from Albuquerque, NM

Congratulations on the offer! Working the night shift is certainly an adjustment if you are used to 9-to-5 hours, and it isn’t for everyone. You will want to consider how the hours will impact not only your health, but also your lifestyle. That said, if you decide to give it a shot, there are a number of ways to help adjust your circadian rhythms.

Minimize Distractions
When you sleep at the same time as most of the other people you know, there are fewer distractions to keep you awake. But when you switch your schedule and try to sleep when it’s light out, when your family or roommates are going through their routines, and when your friends are trying to call or text you, the distractions are compounded. Do whatever you can to create the ideal sleep environment. This might include purchasing blackout shades, talking to your household about noise levels and interruptions, and turning your phone off.

Develop a Routine
Just as you have a routine now, you’ll want to develop a new routine for your new schedule. This will include adjusting your eating schedule, finding time to exercise and building in time for fun and family. What used to be dinner may become your breakfast. Rather than fighting for gym equipment at 5 p.m., you may have your choice at 10 a.m. Working out twice—once before and once after work—may help your body to get in and out of sleep mode. The earlier you establish some sense of normalcy, the easier your adjustment will be. Be sure to maintain your new routine on weekends and days that you don’t work. Switching your schedule too often can wreak havoc on your body.

Let There Be Light!
Having a brightly lit workspace can do wonders for nighttime productivity. Task lighting will help cut the harsh overhead lighting, and you may even want to invest in a lamp or light box that emulates sunlight. In the same vein, if you struggle to wake up in your darkened room, you can find (or make) alarm clocks and lamps that gradually get brighter, easing you into your “morning.”

Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
When you work the night shift, you are more inclined to exercise less and eat more of the wrong things, just by the nature of the lifestyle. There are only so many food options available at 2 a.m.. While the occasional late-night taco or jumbo slice of pizza is not the end of the world, you don’t want it to become a habit. Bringing a variety of healthy foods from home will help you fight the temptation. If you have veggies, hummus, fruit, yogurt, nuts and cheese in your lunch bag, you’ll be less inclined to give in to temptations than if you have one big salad.

Find Time for Fun
In the 9-to-5 world, socializing often happens in the evenings and on weekends, when you may be working or sleeping. But this does not mean you can never see family or friends or participate in activities that you enjoy. Try to find ways to see each other when you are both free—maybe grab an early dinner or go out for breakfast. Maybe there is a daytime class that piques your interest that you weren’t able to do in the past. Once you have become accustomed to your new routine, shortening your sleep schedule a couple of hours here or there is ok—just be sure not to do it too frequently, or you’ll begin to feel the impact. 

Test Drive Your New Schedule
If possible, give yourself some time to get used to your new schedule before starting your job. It may be the weekend, or it may be the week or two you have off in between jobs. Changing things at a time when you may not have as many demands put on you will help you better understand how your body reacts and how much time you need to get ready and to fall asleep. Additionally, it will help you be even more prepared for the first day of your new shift.