Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes: A Novel Night Shift Experience

While working as an Emergency Room physician and hospitalist in Eastern Ontario, Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes is also achieving success as a novelist. Her latest medical thriller, Graveyard Shift, is set on a very eerie night shift in a fictional Montreal hospital. Here, this modern Renaissance woman talks about her own night shift experiences, the pressing problem of violence within hospitals, and how she balances resuscitation, writing and rotating shift work.

What was your inspiration for Graveyard Shift? 

There was a crazy case at one of the hospitals I worked at. In the end, a police officer came and took care of it and we avoided what could have been a disaster. But, when I thought about what could have happened if he hadn’t done that, I knew it was my next book. I was already writing a book set on an airplane, but I wanted the next book to be about this domino effect where everything goes wrong, one thing after another, all set up in the beginning. The idea at its core was from a real case.

Often the Emergency Room doctor is the only physician in the entire hospital [at night]. Honestly, I try not to think about it because it would be paralyzing.

I appreciated how you used details about night shift to create obstacles for your characters. How do those same obstacles affect your real life work as a physician on night shift?

It’s a given that you are almost all by yourself with almost no resources on night shift. Everybody’s tired and you’re doing the best you can. For example, I work at a small hospital with no x-rays at night. The only labs we run at night are the ones nurses can run in the Emergency, so just basic things like CBC, electrolytes, INR, trops, calcium. That’s it. You’re not going to get anything else. So our hands are pretty tied. 

That’s why when people come in and say, “Well, I just wanted to come in now because it’s a shorter wait,” they don’t understand that we just can’t handle things the way that we do during the daytime. 

At one point, the book’s protagonist realizes that she is the only physician available and the responsibility feels crushing. Is that a feeling you can relate to when you work night shift?

Of course. Often the Emergency Room doctor is the only physician in the entire hospital [at night]. Honestly, I try not to think about it because it would be paralyzing. At one hospital where I worked, we were being called to deliveries as well, so we were covering Obstetrics, ICU, the Emergency Department, and anyone who happened to code in the parking lot. It just wasn’t physically possible and it was dangerous for us to be trying to cover that much. 

Photo Credit: Ladouceur PHOTO

A lot of frontline healthcare workers are hit and kicked and we don’t talk about it because we try to be patient-centred and very understanding.

Your book addresses the issues of violence within hospitals. How do you think violence on night shift affects staff? And how do you address it as a physician?

I try to be very proactive about potential violence within the hospital, the same we try to prepare for codes in general. I remember one night shift when a very serious case was coming in – someone who was very violent a few days prior.  So I said, “Who is willing to get my medication?” And one nurse volunteered. “Who is coming in with me to the room?” Another nurse volunteered. “Do we have a bed on psych?”, etc. I just try to get everything organized and then go in. When I meet the patient, I start with, “Why are you here tonight?” I try to be very calm because if you’re aggressive, they immediately respond to it and it’s over. 

There is a line in my new book when a nurse says, “I’ve been kicked, I’ve been punched, I’ve been strangled with my own stethoscope – it’s not my first rodeo.” That is a direct quote from a nurse I work with. A lot of frontline healthcare workers are hit and kicked and we don’t talk about it because we try to be patient-centred and very understanding. And while we’re doing that, people who are in the healthcare field are being hurt and we should be addressing that. 

You dedicated this book to Dr. Elana Fric and used it as a platform to speak candidly about Intimate Partner Violence. Tell me more.

There was a Toronto family physician named Elana Fric who was very well-respected. She was a leader in the Ontario Medical Association, a mother of three, and a marathon runner. She was someone who a lot of people loved and looked up to. She was killed by her husband two days after she served him with divorce papers.

As a physician, I already knew about intimate partner violence, which is what we now call domestic violence. The idea is that the Emergency Room especially is a place where you find victims of violence and intimidation and you should be intervening if you can. But it’s not an easy thing to do. 

What I have done since Dr. Fric’s death is broaden my questions. I used to ask people if anyone was hurting them if I suspected violence, but I now I’ve broadened it because the best test is one you give everybody. So now when anybody comes in with an injury, I say “Is somebody hurting you?” 

I will also be donating part of the proceeds of this book to Dr. Fric’s children and some local anti-violence organizations. We have to protect vulnerable women in our society. One way to do that is to give funds to organizations that already exist and know what to do but just need more cash flow.

The idea is that the Emergency Room especially is a place where you find victims of violence and intimidation and you should be intervening if you can. But it’s not an easy thing to do. 

As a wife, mom, physician and writer, how do you find balance while working rotating shifts?

As a hospitalist (in-patient physician), I try and get everything really set up during the day. I view being a hospitalist like being the mayor of the village. I have a certain number of patients – my villagers – and they all need something from me. So I go in and meet them and try to figure out what they need and try to address that during the day. Of course, at night there are still crises but it’s not as bad.

Night shifts in the Emergency Room are tougher. So I am absolutely ferocious before and after my night shifts. I tell people, “Don’t call me!” I put up signs around my door that say “Shhh, sleeping!” If I need to, I’ll get an Air BnB outside my house because I don’t want my kids talking loudly where I can hear it. I’ve even asked my husband to set up my tent outside for me so I wouldn’t be in the house.

I really do hate night shifts and the disruption before and after. The only good thing is that I will usually try and eat something I like and read and relax before – I use it a reason to take better care of myself. It’s some “Me Time” that I’ve cleared. I also try to write more before to stockpile words. 

I wish people were more proactive about protecting their sleep and thinking about it like an emergency.

Any advice for new night shift workers?

I wish people were more proactive about protecting their sleep and thinking about it like an emergency. Sometimes people tell me, “I’m post-call, but my kids’ friends are over and jumping in the pool so I need to get up because that’s dangerous without me.” And my response is: “Never have extra little children in your house after a night shift!” 

For me, it’s about looking after yourself. I am ferocious about it. People who know night shifts are quite respectful about it. For example, I’ve had a doctor’s office e-mail me because they didn’t want to call in case I was working night shift and that was really cool.

But other people don’t get it, so you should silence your phone and turn off all notifications. In the last few years, I’ve sometimes taken medication to really knock me out.

Finally, will night shift workers be scared to work their next shift after your reading your latest book?

They might, but they also can take comfort in knowing that it cannot possibly go as wrong as it does in Graveyard Shift

Follow Dr. Melissa’s literary adventures on her website [click here]and sign up for her newsletter. Her latest medical thriller Graveyard Shift will be available November 1, 2019. Find out how to grab your copy [click here].

Photo Credit: Ladouceur PHOTO

Erin Abraham: Shifting Mood Through Food

Erin Abraham, 31, is a holistic nutritionist and the wellpreneur behind Nourished Root. In this interview, Abraham shares nutritional advice customized for shift workers – from the importance of meal planning to why protein energy bites are a night worker’s secret weapon.

–– As told to Lauren McGill.

You work as a certified nutritional practitioner, culinary nutrition expert, and cooking instructor. Where did all of this interest in food come from?

My passion for food came from family traditions and cooking in the kitchen together. My father was Lebanese, so we had a lot of food traditions. When we would get together in the kitchen and cook, then sit down at the table and share meals together, those were good times.

How did you get into holistic nutrition?

Through my own health challenges. In my early twenties I struggled with mental health, and I realized the way that I was caring for myself could be better. I returned to my roots of growing, and cooking solely with whole foods.

After a few months of incorporating my traditional eating habits, I noticed a positive shift in my mental and physical health and overall wellbeing. I love to learn, so I dove into the research which lead me to the concept of holistic nutrition and the importance of a whole food diet. 

Tell me about your approach to working with clients.

It’s very individual-based. Everybody is different. Everybody has different needs and so it’s about understanding what is going to be balancing for them.

Understanding their lifestyle, understanding their current habits, understanding their goals and what empowers them to want to take charge of their health – that is all part of it. We basically break it right down to what they are currently doing and look at how we can foster positive changes.

When you are working at night, your digestion is not working at its peak – during the night your body is in its rest state.

What are some of the specific challenges you address with shift workers?

My mom actually worked shift work when I was a kid and with her it was all about routine and scheduling. I see shift workers struggling with not having enough time to set themselves up to succeed when working. It’s not just about meal prep, or not making your lunch. It’s taking the time to set yourself up with a schedule for a well-balanced lifestyle and stick to it in order to avoid bad choices, and bad habits.

When you are working at night, your digestion is not working at its peak – during the night your body is in its rest state. To keep it working optimally is hard and often difficult to maintain. A routine and schedule will help your digestion, and help your metabolism run more smoothly.

During the night shift, it is helpful to eat every few hours. Smaller meals can encourage your metabolism to function more effectively.

Can you give us some specific ideas on how to eat for night shift?

It can be helpful to schedule your meals this way: when you come home from your nightshift,  have your breakfast. When you wake up from your sleep, have your lunch. And before going to work, have your biggest meal.

During the night shift, it is helpful to eat every few hours. Smaller meals can encourage your metabolism to function more effectively.

Throughout the night, try snacking with protein – I highly recommend protein energy bites. The protein and fat in energy bites work together to sustain energy and to also fuel your cells. If you snack instead of having a heavy meal when you’re on the night shift, you are more likely to sustain your energy and it’s easier on your digestive system. 

The protein and fat in energy bites work together to sustain energy and to also fuel your cells.

What about caffeine at night?

I suggest that if you need to have coffee, have one coffee but have it four to five hours prior to when your shift ends because coffee can sustain you and give you energy. When you go home, you don’t want to be wired. You want to be able to eat breakfast and have your sleep.

Any foods to avoid at night?

I highly suggest staying away from anything that has sugar additives, like pop or energy drinks. Those foods don’t do anything good for you. If anything, they’ll make you crash and burn. The night shift already impacts your internal clock and you don’t need to consume sugary, processed foods which will make matters worse. 

I would suggest consuming carbs in moderation at night. So if you’re going to have a sweet potato, maybe try half a sweet potato instead. Use your palm to gauge portion size for things like nuts and seeds. Certain carbs can be heavy, so just be mindful of how it makes you feel during the day, because carbs will also make you feel like that at night.

Use your palm to gauge portion size for things like nuts and seeds.

You speak often about how intimidating nutrition, meal planning and cooking can seem. How do you help your clients overcome this?

We look at what they are currently doing, the barriers they are facing, and how it is making them feel. We assess their schedule, their budget and overall wellness goals. We dive into the basics of meal planning, and food preparation. We schedule their meal and snack time for ease.

From there, we look at meals that they can incorporate multiple times during the week that are versatile and nutrient dense. We consider the time it takes to meal prep because if there is a lot of preparation, people typically don’t want to do it. I encourage slow cooker meals and Instant Pot meals and promote leftovers.

We even dive into their grocery shopping process, and consider the shelf life of various whole foods. Breaking the process down, while keeping an open mind is key. Providing my clients with accountability and support throughout the process gives them confidence to move forward and make the best choices for themselves. 

What is one mistake that you see clients making with their food choices? How can it be fixed?

People don’t make time to eat. People schedule their lives around everything else, but you should schedule your life around when you should eat because ultimately that food that you’re going to be sitting down and chewing is going to nourish and fuel your body. A lot of people don’t take that as a priority and everything else that goes with it, like grocery shopping. 

The biggest thing is consistency – find a system that works for you, especially with meal planning.

Any final advice for shift workers?

Staying active is so important. It improves mood, and helps with stress management. Shift workers sometimes say, ‘I don’t have enough time to be active.’ But if you schedule it and do your movement prior to going into work, you’ll increase your energy and keep it stable throughout the night because you’ve done your cardio prior to going into your night shift. 

The biggest thing is consistency – find a system that works for you, especially with meal planning. And for your days off, don’t overextend yourself with tons of things to do. Don’t burn yourself out, stay consistent with your ritual so that it allows for success.

Lastly, stay hydrated, nourish your cells and if you have to schedule time to drink water, that is okay. Set a timer and drink on!

Thank you, Erin, for sharing your wise and loving approach to nutrition, cooking and all things food-related. Check out more of Erin’s approach to health on her FB page @Nourished Root

Photos: Mitch Jackson

Meg Harrell: Blogging and Tiny Living on Night Shift

Meg Harrell, 32, is a CDICU nurse and the lifestyle blogger behind MegForIt. She lives in a tiny house with her family of four in North Carolina. Here, she shares her preferred work schedule, her tricks to fall asleep after a busy shift, and why screen time can be the enemy of daytime sleep.

–– As told to Lauren McGill. Edited for clarity and conciseness.

What do you do for work?

I am a RN and I’ve worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in CDICU (Cardiovascular ICU) for the past three years. I also tutor nursing students online and write e-books and resources to help new nurses and nursing students.

Tell me about your schedule.

I try not to do night shifts in a row, so I divided my schedule so it would be one weekend shift, one Tuesday shift, and one Thursday or Friday shift. Depending on my husband’s schedule, if I don’t get to sleep too much, it’s just not healthy to drive to work with no sleep for nights in a row.

Was your management accommodating about your preferred schedule?

Management was great and super nice about it. We had a big influx of new nurses and so we were well-staffed with a lot of the new people trying to pick up shifts. Also, I told my manager that if I got nights in a row, I might not sleep at all, so I needed my schedule broken up or I would not be a safe nurse.

I think that if night shift works for you, you should stick with it. 

Why did you make the switch to night shifts?

The main reason was my kids (ages 4 & 6). Childcare was difficult. It was nice when we were living with family and I could just drop them off at my mom’s or drop them off at my in-laws. But then once you don’t have that, it’s hard with younger kids. I would trust a sitter if my kids were a little bit older, but when my kids were little babies and they couldn’t go to school yet, it’s hard and it was also expensive. 

How do you coordinate childcare with your husband?

Usually, I will go pick up my husband when he’s done work and then we’ll do the switch-off with the kids. He’ll take the kids, drop me off at work and then I’ll work all night. He’ll put the kids to bed, sleep all night, and then he’ll come and get me in the morning and we’ll switch off the kids again.

Sometimes I will drop him off at work in the morning and I’ll have the kids. Other times he can come home and watch the kids for a couple of hours while I sleep, or he comes home early and I sleep a couple of hours before the shift. While I’m sleeping, my husband will take my kids to the library, the pool, or the playground. 

Besides working as an RN, what else do you have going on? 

I run the lifestyle blog Meg For It. I am also a travel writer, so I get hired by brands, resorts, and companies that want me to travel to places and write about what is happening there. Next weekend, I am flying to Disney! They have something coming out over there and I get to bring my kids, which is great.

Tell me about your living arrangements. 

I live in a tiny house that is 360 sq ft. with my two kids and husband in a tiny house community in the Smoky Mountains. Our bed raises up to the ceiling, so when it’s on the ceiling I have a living area, and when we bring it down we have a bedroom.

How do you sleep during the day in a shared tiny house?

I close all the blackout curtains and do a bit of meditation and some special deep breathing techniques to come down a little bit. I feel like when I’m at work, my adrenaline is running and I can’t just switch it off. I have to bring myself down a couple of levels to finally be able to relax and fall asleep.

Any advice for shift workers transitioning over to tiny house living?

Be vocal about your needs to your partner – if you need them to be quiet, or you just don’t want to be touched. Blackout curtains are also a must because sunlight messes with your sleep. And depending on noise levels, use ear plugs. Good quality ones are worth investing in because they’ll help you go into those deeper levels of sleep.

Be vocal about your needs to your partner – if you need them to be quiet, or you just don’t want to be touched.

What are some of the pitfalls with working nights?

I think you have to be very particular with how you schedule yourself. You have to value sleep. If you have an opportunity to sleep, don’t give it up to watch a movie. Sometimes you have to cancel your plans, because sleep is so important. As life evolves, you have to find a way to value sleep and value time. Don’t waste it!

Also, you cannot waste time on social media. If you want a good sleep pattern, you have to schedule your screentime. You can’t be scrolling through Instagram when you’re about to fall asleep because you won’t be able to just transition.

You have to value sleep. If you have an opportunity to sleep, don’t give it up to watch a movie.

Any final thoughts about working nights?

Night shift is not easier. A lot of people think, ‘Oh, everyone is sleeping.” No! Everyone is not sleeping. Healthcare is an industry that never sleeps so don’t think that night shift is going to be easier if you’re thinking of getting into it. 

And if you’re thinking of leaving night shift, remember that day shift can be challenging with more people coming at you, like management and more doctors, etc. There are always pros and cons. I think that if night shift works for you, you should stick with it. 

Thank you, Meg, for sharing your adventurous approach to life with us! Be sure to follow Meg’s fun-filled IG @meg.for.it and grab a copy of her super helpful Nursing Resource e-book here >>>> https://www.megforit.com/downloads/complete-rn-resource-ebook/.

How to Schedule Sleep for Night Shift

It’s pretty simple. The best sleep schedule is the one that works for you! Everyone’s sleep needs and circumstances are different. The main thing is to get enough sleep.

Sometimes I read articles on how to sleep while working nights that dogmatically dictate a certain sleep schedule. But, realistically, the same thing just doesn’t work everyone. And if you’re new to shift work or have been struggling to get adequate sleep, you might need to try a few different sleeping patterns to see which is best for you.

You need to figure out what works for your body and circumstances and then stick to it consistently. This will let your body adjust and help you build some routine into your life. It will also help you sleep during the day more easily by training your body when it should be asleep vs. awake.

How to build your sleep schedule

Take the time to plot out exactly what hours you need to sleep, either digitally or on paper. Mapping out your sleep plan will help you find potential flaws in your well-intentioned ideas. When plotting out your sleep schedule, consider:

  • Your scheduled shifts (8 hrs? 12 hrs? start time? end time?)
  • Your individual sleep requirements (7 hrs of shut eye? 9 hrs or more?)
  • Your family responsibilities (children to be dropped off/picked up?)
  • Social engagements (PTA meetings, dinner dates, etc.)
  • Other commitments (soccer practice, doctor’s appointments, etc.)

Sample sleep plans

Want to see the schedules of some of my co-workers? These different sleeping schedules show you that successful daytime sleeping doesn’t need to look exactly one way to be effective.

The fitness buff

Some of my athletic co-workers follow this schedule:

  • Leave work as the sun rises, eating breakfast before they go
  • Work out at the gym & shower
  • Hit the sheets by 10 a.m.
  • Sleep til about 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.
  • Eat dinner
  • Head into work

These folks admit that this only works for them if they go directly to the gym. Stopping at home is deadly for as it inevitably leads to crawling between the sheets and never making it back out.


The school sleeper

Many of my co-workers are parents. Here’s how they work their sleep schedule:

  • Leave work
  • Get home in time for the breakfast parade and lunch-making lineup
  • Pop kids on the bus and/or deliver them to school
  • Head straight to bed
  • Sleep until school is over
  • Do homework and eat dinner with the kids
  • Give bedtime kisses
  • Head into work

If you need more sleep than this schedule allows, it may be possible to arrange after-school daycare or babysitting.


The split sleeper

I have other co-workers who cannot stay asleep for one long spell during the day. These folks do the following:

  • Leave work
  • Eat breakfast
  • Head straight to bed
  • Sleep for a 3+ hour nap
  • Have lunch / putter around / do some housekeeping
  • Sleep for another 3+ hour nap
  • Drive to work
  • Eat dinner in the staff room and head into their night shift

My schedule

Here’s what works for me:

  • I have a small breakfast near the end of my shift.
  • I head straight to bed after work and sleep for several hours.
  • I invariably snap awake at 1 p.m. so I drink a tall glass of water and pad around my apartment for a few minutes.
  • I get back in bed, do some reading and head back to sleep until late afternoon.
  • I eat dinner, grab a large coffee, and drop off my dog before heading into work. (I try to get to work 15 mins before shift start to settle in and relieve my coworker early.)

Could any of those sleep plans work for you? Do you already have a sleep schedule that works for you? Please share below so we can learn from each other!

Sleep Schedules for Shift Workers

Ashlee Murray: Spinning Her Way Through Shift Work


Ashlee Murray, 30, is an Emergency Department clerk in a busy Eastern Ontario hospital. Amongst her many side gigs, Murray teaches high-octane spin classes at RIDE Indoor Cycling Studio in Cornwall, ON. In this interview, she gets candid about the toll of rotating shift work and how her own experience has fuelled a passion to help other shift workers stay fit and tackle their stress through spinning.

–– As told to Lauren McGill. Edited for clarity and conciseness.

Can you describe your job? What does a typical shift look like?

I’m a clerk in the Emergency Department. It’s a hectic, crazy, high-stress, high-tension type of job. You have to be on your toes at all times. I see happiness. I see sadness. I see death. I see everything. Some stuff I don’t really want to see but that’s part of the job.

Tell me about your work schedule.

I work full-time, so I work 75 hours bi-weekly. I work on a 14-week rotating schedule and every week is different for those 14 weeks.

Usually, I have a few days off in between my chunk of day or night shifts. There is one week where I work Monday to Friday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; another week has a chunk where I work one 12-hour day shift and then three 12-hour night shifts in a row. That is difficult, and definitely not ideal for the everyday person.

What’s life like outside of work? 

I am a fiancée, a mother of three (ages 3, 7 & 8), and a spin instructor. I also do medical transcription on my days off, which is a new position I just took on. I am also an online stylist with Silver Icing, a women’s clothing and accessories website and for I Dress Myself, which is more of a children-based clothing company. I don’t like to be bored so I am constantly looking for more things to do.

What is the most challenging part of your schedule?

The night shifts. Those have always been difficult for me. They throw you off your schedule completely. You don’t feel great. I get that weird, sick feeling around 3 a.m. I completely feel a difference in my body when I’m working night shifts. It’s sluggish, it’s slow. I think that’s normal for most people. 

When you’re working in a rotation that has random night shifts, your body reacts differently than someone who would be doing straight nights because their bodies get accustomed to that. For people like me, every single night shift leads to that sluggish, slow, tired, sick feeling. 

Sleeping during the day is not fun – you want to be outside getting vitamin D and enjoying life but, instead, you have to be up all night while everyone else is sleeping.

Why spinning?

I have been addicted to spinning for the last five years. It is my happy place. Spinning is part of what makes shift work possible for me. I get a big amount of energy out of a spin class and it carries through to the next day.

Spinning is part of what makes shift work possible for me.

What’s your approach to teaching spinning classes?

My classes are geared towards a beginner’s crowd. No intimidation factor there. I try to be very welcoming, supportive and positive and make sure people feel they can be comfortable with me and comfortable in the studio. 

I find it really gratifying to teach classes that many of my colleagues attend. Being a shift worker, especially in the healthcare field, is definitely a challenging job—whether you’re a nurse, whether you’re a clerk, whether you’re a housekeeper. There is stress everywhere in a hospital setting. Being able to accommodate and work out with individuals that work on the same level as you – the same stress level, the same shifts – is rewarding.

As a spin instructor, being able to bring class availability to shift workers was a huge priority for me and I’ve planned my class times around that. 

How do you balance teaching spin classes with shift work? How do you get the time off to teach?

I am very lucky that one of my good friends owns the studio where I work. I submit my schedule to her every month for what I can teach and she lets me teach those classes.

I teach most of my spin classes at 7:30 p.m.. As a spin instructor, being able to bring class availability to shift workers was a huge priority for me and I’ve planned my class times around that. 

What advice do you have for shift workers who are trying to improve their fitness level?

Eat as best as you can. I know it’s not always easy— it’s often a grab-and-go kind of thing unless you have time to meal prep, which is very rare for me, personally. Make sure that you grab that healthier option and try to keep hydrated. Rest is key. You won’t get very much done with a tired brain. Keep healthy, keep fit. Exercise—even walking—is helpful. 

Thank you, Ashlee, for sharing your passion for spinning with us! We love your positive vibe and can-do attitude. If you want to find out more about Ashlee’s approach to spin classes, check out her FB @sitsweatcycle

Photo: Ladouceur PHOTO

Meal Kits + Shift Work

This post is *NOT* sponsored. Night Shift Wellness loves to share brands that make shift work easier and we think this is one of them! Scroll to the bottom for an exclusive deal available to Night Shift Wellness readers.

My co-workers introduced me to meal kit subscriptions. They swear by them as a sanity saver. Below are three examples of my colleagues – all shift workers – who really, really ♥️ meal kits.

  • One doctor I work with has three kids; his wife is also a doctor. Their family orders a family-sized meal kit each week. He says this makes an enormous difference to their life and lets them cook with their kids.
  • Another doctor resorted to meal kits after the staff razzed him for ordering every single meal as takeout. Every. Single. Meal.
  • A phlebotomist I work with says she never had time to plan healthy meals, do the groceries, and then all the prep for her husband, toddler, and pregnant self. She jokes that the only reason she eats vegetables is her meal kit subscription.

There are several meal kit options available in my area. I was wavering over which one to try, so I turned to my friend Emma who had tried every single option. For her, the clear winner was GoodFood, a brand I knew several of my coworkers were using. It wasn’t the cheapest, but Emma loved the variety and quality of the meals. The website is easy to use. The meals are delicious. The delivery options are great.

How does it work? You buy a subscription online, select your preferences, and they deliver meal kits to your door on a designated day. You choose how many meals you want per week and can select from 5 categories:

  • Classic Meals
  • Easy Prep Meals
  • Clean 15 (Low Carb)
  • Vegetarian Meals
  • Family-Style Meals

For my first week, I opted for three meals of two servings each from the Clean 15 category.

Everything you need to make the meals is delivered in a cooler box. The ingredients are divided to make it a no-brainer. Each kit contains all the ingredients you need, along with a set of simple, step-by-step instructions with photos.

My Meal Kit Choices

There are tons of options available each week. I opted for:

  • Grilled Maple-Mustard Chicken Breasts
  • Summer Beef Meatballs with Sweet Potato ‘Spaghetti’
  • Grilled Tofu Buddha Bowl

Meal #1: Grilled Maple-Mustard Chicken Breasts

How did GoodFood know that it was mid-July and I didn’t want to turn on my stove and instead wanted to hang out and BBQ on my porch in my flip-flops?! Oh, right, they have a whole team thinking these things through. Maybe I’m an easy sell, but I was already impressed that they just knew that crunchy, saucy salad with grilled chicken was exactly what this girl needed.

The instructions were incredibly easy and it took no time at all to whip this up. It felt a lot fancier than what I normally pull together for myself and it was SO tasty. Honestly, those nice folks must put a lot more thought into meals than I do – there was contrasting colours, textures, and flavours. There was crunchincness, sweetness, tanginess… there was even garnish! Five stars, highly recommend, would make again.

Meal #2: Summer Beef Meatballs with Sweet Potato ‘Spaghetti’

Another winner. This was so simple and SO good. Spiralized sweet potato ‘noodles’, flavour-packed meatballs, and a sassy sauce of cherry tomatoes.

I made this one between Night One and Night Two of hospital shifts. For me to cook at 5 pm before heading into my second shift, it has to be realllly easy. And this delivered. I had my first meal of it for supper and brought in the rest for a delicious 3 a.m. meal.

Again, I was impressed by how this meal had been summer-ized and was seasonal perfection! Fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, fresh parm. Fresh-ilicious!

Meal #3: Grilled Tofu Buddha Bowl

^^^^ The picture doesn’t do it justice because I made this at 10 p.m. at night and so there was no daylight to capture its beauty.

Guys, this is where things got interesting. I could pretend that I’m really open-minded and progressive about loving all foods but I’m not. Tofu just isn’t my jam. I didn’t finalize my choices online – which is supppper easy to do – so I ended up getting a Grilled Tofu Buddha Bowl meal kit shipped. This was totally avoidable and easy peasy to fix, but I flaked out partway through meal selection and forgot to choose all three meals. My bad.

I was off to a very strong start with the other meals, so I decided to dive in with a positive attitude. I didn’t end up loving all of this meal, because even with the fun spice blend provided for the grilled tofu, I couldn’t get on board with a block of curdled soybean. But, everything else about this meal was completely delicious. Matchstick beets, shredded daikon, marinated kale, and garlicky snap peas – I’d totally make it again, just with no tofu. There are so many other delicious options – no need to pick the tofu one!

The Bottom Line

I ordered my box for a week when I had a string of night shifts and I am 100% sure I ate a LOT better that week because a big ol’ box of great ingredients with instructions was dropped at my door. It made it a no-brainer to cook healthy meals.

I was impressed with GoodFood meal kits. I think they are a game changer for shift workers.

There is still some cooking and assembly required – and then the dishes, of course. But I found myself spending zero time meal planning and zero time grocery shopping. I spent between 20 and 30 minutes preparing each meal, and the results exceeded my expectations. I felt like a fancy pants chef and I had generous leftovers to bring with me on my shifts. So much winning.

As a con, I am somewhat concerned about the amount of packaging involved in these kits, but here’s the Good Food website recommends dropping the cardboard box, insulation liner, bags, bottles and baskets in your recycling bin. Also, the solution in the ice packs is a water and salt gel, so you can pop them in your freezer, or snip off the ends and pour the all-natural solution in the toilet.

This concern is counteracted with another pro: I definitely had less food waste using their meal kits. I tend to overbuy ingredients, but GoodFood sent exactly what I needed to prepare each tasty dish.

The bottom line? I highly, highly recommend night shift workers try meal kits. If you live in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Maritimes, then I recommend starting with Good Food. I think you’ll love it!

Are you ready to try GoodFood for yourself? Get $40 off your first basket – no strings attached – using this link. <<< (full disclosure: affiliate link) You can choose what kind of meals you want, how many meals you want to receive and the number of portions. Just go for it!

Big Decisions While Working Nights: Yes or No?

I hadn’t given much thought to making big life decisions while working nights until recently. I listened as one nurse asked another nurse if she’d decided on a new vehicle. The second nurse replied,

“Oh no, I won’t decide that while I’m working my nights! I’ll finish my nights, have a good sleep, and then decide.”

Leave it to a seasoned trauma nurse to be so pragmatic.

When I paused to think about it, I realized this nurse had just taught me an important lesson: do not make big life decisions in the middle of a string of nights!

I already knew from a little life experience that good decisions are rarely made after midnight. Online shopping in the wee hours had never ended too well for me. And what is it about the middle of the night that makes problems loom larger? Or makes sweeping life changes seem sensible? No, no – I had already learned not to go job hunting online after midnight, send important e-mails, or make expensive purchases.

After thinking over what this nurse said about making decisions during her stretch of night shifts, I realized that I could easily postpone most major life choices for at least a day or two– apartment hunting, vacation destination, financial decisions, etc. It can all afford to wait another day or two, when I back in the “land of the living” and feeling more rested and clear-headed.

What about you? How do you navigate big decisions while working nights?

A 10 Minute Staircase Workout for Night Shift

Here we go! Try this workout session that takes less than 10 minutes. All you need is an empty stairwell – so it’s perfect for night shift.

  1. Warm up for two minutes by slowly walking up and down stairs.
  2. Run up the steps as fast as safely possible for 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  3. Walk the hallway for two minutes.
  4. Run back up the stairs for another 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  5. Walk for two more minutes.
  6. Run the stairs for a final 20 seconds. Head back down slowly.
  7. Cool down with three minutes of stair and corridor walking. 

How to Exercise at Work on Night Shift

Hitting the gym might be the very last thing you feel like doing while working a stretch of night shifts. Good news! You can absolutely get your fitness fix while working nights – here are several ways to squeeze in some mini workouts on the job.

Make your commute a workout

  • Walk to work.
  • Bike to work.
  • Get off the subway a stop early.
  • Park in the furthest parking lot.

Sit on a stability ball

Strengthen your core by sitting on a stability ball, forcing your abdominal muscles to compensate for changes in balance. You’ll be doing a low-intensity workout every time you sit down, and all those nighttime hours will really add up.

You’ll also improve your balance and tone your core muscles while sitting at your desk. Well done, you!

Take the long(er) way

Find ways to sneak in extra steps – all those steps add up at the end of the night.

  • If you need to deliver something to another department, take it yourself.
  • Instead of calling a coworker, walk to their desk.
  • Use the bathroom at the far end of the building.

Skip the elevator

If you don’t have big boxes of paperwork to carry, what’s stopping you from taking the stairs? The stairs are free and pack a serious cardio punch. (Other people are actually paying big bucks to use a stair climber at their gym!)

Stand up for yourself

Get out of that chair! Try a standing desk. (Improvise with a high table or counter if you need to.)

Stand and walk while talking on the phone, if possible. Standing is so much better than slouching in your chair.

Work out with colleagues

You’re probably not the only one trying to fit in some extra fitness at work. Grab some like-minded colleagues and form a push-up club that meets before your shift or a running club that heads out for a quick jog on your midnight break. It can be as simple as doing squat or plank challenges together.

The camaraderie is great and you can hold each other accountable for regular exercise — and offer some much-needed cheerleading to one another when the going gets tough.

Volunteer

There are always little things that need to be brought back and forth. The paperwork, the forms, the coffee, the printer paper… so volunteer yourself! By doing errands, you’ll still be valuable and productive but getting a bonus boost of fitness as you get things done.

Keep fitness gear at work

Keep a stash of resistance bands or small hand weights in your locker or desk drawer for an impromptu workout. Does your company have an on-site gym? Even better! 

How do you squeeze fitness into your night shift? Any tips or tricks to add to this list? Please add your suggestions below in the comments section.

Does the Night Shift Make You Moody?

Okay, truth time. It’s just us here, so let’s be honest with each other. Does working nights make you grumpy? Cranky? Short-tempered?

For myself, I see a definite connection. I notice it most on my flip day… when I’m switching from nights back on to days. I’m sleep-deprived, I’m depleted, and I’m not in the mood for anyone’s shenanigans. Sometimes I just quarantine myself from society and hang out at home. But other times I need to show up at a dinner party or some other social thing and let me tell you…. the struggle is real.

DYK that a night shift schedule sets us up for mood issues that extend beyond just feeling a little off as we flip back and forth? 

According to a Sleep Foundation article: “Shift work disorder can increase the risk of mental health problems like depression. This may be because of the disruption of the circadian system (which regulates the release of different chemicals in the body).”

How to battle back? Part of the answer lies in keeping social connections alive.

The article continues: “Shift work can also cause certain social issues that decrease wellbeing and happiness. If you work irregular hours, you might eventually feel ‘out of step’ with the people in your family or social network.”

If you’re looking for ways to keep those social connections alive, check out my blog post “How to Have a Social Life on Night Shift.” It has lots of ideas about how to stay connected while working a shifty schedule.

Graveyard shift and mood disorders

Do You Have a Night Shift Hobby?

Some people who work the night shift actually work all night. I’m not one of those people.

Sure, I’m technically at work all night. And there are definitely nights when I walk in at 7 p.m. and work in a near frenzy until my relief arrives at 7 a.m.

But there are other nights where there are large chunks of the night – usually the wee hours – that have no tasks to offer. The patients are registered, the charts are up-to-date, the office supplies are fully stocked, the scanning is finished… and those sweet nights offer the gift of time.

Well, a specific kind of time. It’s not like I can go do the things I’d really like to do… like sleep for a few hours or boot up my Macbook. And there is a very narrow window of what is considered to be professionally acceptable at a nursing station. It’s not the time to break out the watercolour paints. Painting your nails is also definitely out of the question. The whole team needs to be ready to dive into action at any moment. No wet nails allowed.

I think a lot of night shift workers are in a similar situation. We need to be there – awake and alert – but sometimes we have stretches of downtime. It can be helpful to fill this downtime with activity to stay fresh and awake.

Suitable night shift activities are things that you can easily pick up and put down. Something you can tuck into your work bag and bring with you “just in case” you end up with a few minutes.

Depending on your workstation setup and workplace rules, you could try:

  • Knitting
  • Reading (fiction! non-fiction! comic books!)
  • Solving crosswords and Sudoku puzzles
  • Journalling & sketching
  • Mending a small clothing item
  • Meal planning
  • Perusing the flyers
  • Planning a vacation
  • Taking an online course
  • Writing thank you cards

You definitely want to check with your team what is considered acceptable or unacceptable at your job. No sense in getting fired over a knitting project.

Do you have night shift hobbies? Tell us what they are below in the comments!

Night Shift Wellness Do You Have a Night Shift Hobby?

The Best Trick to Fall Asleep

A few months ago I was having trouble falling asleep after night shifts. I’d arrive home, absolutely exhausted, but too amped up to fall asleep. The mental countdown of how many hours until the next night shift just made things worse.

Then I remembered a little trick I’d discovered years ago. It was so simple and effective that I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about it. The trick? Reading!

Reading fiction for 15 minutes at bedtime works better than anything else I’ve tried.

Why reading?

I discovered reading as a powerful stress-buster while working a high octane job. During that period, I’d come home feeling wired and tired. Then I’d sit like a zombie in front of the TV. I’d lose hours but not feel any more relaxed. I knew I needed to do something different to transition home.

That is when I learned about the superpowers of reading. DYK that just a few minutes of reading can actually slow your heart rate and ease muscle tension? This makes it an amazing anxiety antidote.  And it’s cheap, easy, and at your fingertips!

Instead of tuning into the TV to relax, I committed to reading for 15 minutes after I came home. I couldn’t believe how quickly it calmed my nerves and set me up for a more relaxed time at home. What an easy and great trick to turn off the stress.

Why fiction?

I might look like a grownup, but I can still benefit from a good bedtime story. (Or, at least a chapter or two.) Any kind of reading can help soothe frazzled nerves, but fiction is a perfect escape for sleepytime.

Bedtime is definitely not the time for stimulating books that get your mind revved up. You’ve probably had enough of that on your night shift! So no self-help books, investment guides, or career-related reading before snoozeville. Bedtime is a perfect time to dive into a great story, giving your mind something lowkey to mull over.

Why 15 minutes?

Fifteen minutes is doable. Even when I come home exhausted, I tell myself, “Just 15 minutes. You can do 15 minutes.” Within no time, I am usually totally relaxed and ready to drift off.

What about you? Do you relax by reading at bedtime?

Night Shift Wellness The Best Trick to Fall Asleep

Daytime Sleeping for the Night Shift

How well do you…. Think? React? Work? Learn? Interact? All of these things hinge on the quality and quantity of your sleep.

Sleep is vital to good health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep protects your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and job competency. It even affects your immune system’s ability to work properly.  How well you feel while you’re awake greatly depends on the quality and quantity of your sleep. During sleep, your body works to support healthy brain function and maintain our physical health.

The benefits of sleep are:

  • Improved memory skills
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Enhanced creativity
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Hormonal regulation
  • Sharper attention
  • Reduced stress

After reviewing that list of benefits, who could possibly afford not to max out their sleep time? Good sleep is critical for optimal functioning. On the other hand, the damage from sleep deficiency can occur suddenly (like a crash from falling asleep at the wheel) or slowly accrue over time (like type 2 diabetes). Many of the chronic and serious health problems linked to night shift work may actually be explained by the sleep deprivation many night shift workers report, rather than the actual nocturnal hours they keep.

Some shift workers report that their brain feels like is working hard both day and night which is, frankly speaking, exhausting. Living both in day and night can be overwhelming at times. It’s important to learn how to shut off your brain when it’s time for restful sleep.

Prioritize sleep

Good sleep must be the main priority in your life if you are going to survive – and thrive – on the night shift. Your sleep time must be vigorously protected. This means letting others know that you are not available during your sleep hours. Put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door, put your phone on silent, and arrange for others to look after deliveries, pick up the kids, or look after carpool. Just as you would not reasonably expect a friend or family member to be available to you at 2 AM, you cannot be available to others at 2 PM. This your precious sleep time and you must value it. Good sleep is critical to keeping your job and your good health.

Have a sleep room

Your sleep room may or may not be your bedroom. Whatever room you use will need to be dark, quiet, and dedicated to sleep. Why call it a sleep room and not just call it a bedroom? Because you need to have one mission for this room: sleep! It cannot also be your home office, or your kids’ jungle gym, or your spouse’s wardrobe planning area. It must be set aside exclusively for your sleep during your night shifts.

Be consistent

Stick to a schedule as much as possible to keep a steady sleep routine. Sticking to a set sleep schedule establishes a routine to make sleep during the day easier. Try different patterns of work and sleep to see which is best for you.

As soon as you get your schedule, look ahead over your next set of shifts and mentally plan how you can maximize your sleep time.

If you have an erratic work schedule, you might consider anchoring your sleep. This means making sure you log the same four hours of sleep every day. For example, make sure you’re in bed from 1 to 5 p.m. every day, then add as many hours as you can before/after that period of time. But your body can count on the fact that you will always be in bed during those hours.  This sleeping pattern adds some sort of regularity to an otherwise chaotic schedule.

Make it dark

Use blackout blinds or heavy curtains to block out as much sunlight as possible. A dark room is essential for a good day’s sleep. Blackout blinds can work wonders for instantly darkening a room. If you find light creeping in around the edges, add blackout curtains as well. It’s worth investing in true blackout material- it has a thick, opaque layer of fabric on the back side that cuts out all light. (Bonus: blackout blinds are energy efficient and can help with heating and cooling costs!)

Disconnect

Leave the electronics off as their interruptions can prevent deep sleep. Make time for quiet relaxation before bed. You can try muscle relaxation, breathing techniques or mental imagery. And if you cannot sleep, don’t stress. Read a book or listen to quiet music.

Block sound

Use a fan, vaporizer or sound machine to muffle outside noises. Protect your sleeping space from household noises by closing your bedroom door. Turn off all of your devices off or put them on silent. Consider adding a “do not ring the doorbell” sign for your front door. Try using a white noise machine to drown out outside noises that you can’t control.

Aroma-therapize

Use tranquillizing scents to trigger relaxation and help you fall asleep faster. There are many studies proving the sleep-inducing, calming effects of lavender oil. Inhaling lavender has shown to reduce sleep disturbance, improve quality and duration of sleep, fight insomnia and improve overall well-being. Plus, unlike most sedative drugs, lavender does not cause any unwanted side effects. (This goes without saying… but avoid using candles to avoid any fire risks! An essential oil diffuser will do nicely.)

Keep it cool

A separate window air conditioner is a good idea to keep your sleep room a little bit cooler than the rest of your place. Our circadian rhythm naturally cools our body during sleep and getting that slightly cooler temp is an important part of successful daytime sleeping. (Bonus: An a/c unit can provide white noise. But if the condenser loudly bangs on and off, then it might be best to opt for a fan instead.)

Daytime Sleeping for Night Shift

 

Apple and Flax Seed Porridge

The breakfast conundrum is an ongoing battle for me. Especially while working nights. What’s fast and nutritious and edible after a 12 hour shift that I can quickly make and scarf down before hitting the sack? This nutrition-packed hot porridge!

The criteria for my breakfasts looks like this:

  1. It has to be tasty.
  2. It has to be nutritious.
  3. It has to be easy enough that I can pull it together post night shift.

This apple and flax seed porridge fits the bill perfectly.

Apple and Flax Seed Porridge

I have often read about the nutritional benefits of eating flax seed. It’s super high in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids (the good kind of fat). Interestingly, it must be ground before being eaten in order to to be absorbable. The trouble is…how exactly do you add this stuff to your diet? By the spoonful? No no. I can’t even imagine.

One day, as I was once again reading an article about what a nutritional powerhouse flax seed is, it occurred to me that perhaps it could be turned into some kind of porridge. That’s when I found this banana and flax seed porridge recipe. I used that recipe as inspiration for a different porridge flavour: apples and cinnamon.

You’ll be shocked at how little you taste the flax seed in this porridge. It’s not gritty or “fibrous” tasting. It’s actually quite mild- I sometimes think of it as “Plain Jane porridge” because it is quite simple. I really like simple in the morning.

I drizzle a bit of maple syrup on top of my porridge, although it’s not really needed. If you feel like getting a bit fancy, stir in any of these toppings for crunch/texture/flavour:

  • chopped pecans
  • dried cranberries, blueberries or cherries
  • chopped dried apricots
  • fresh fruits (raspberries! mmm, yum.)

I hope you enjoy this simple and satisfying breakfast as much as I do.

Apple and Flax Seed Porridge

Apple and Flax Seed Porridge

  • Servings: 1 large bowl
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup almond milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
2 tbsp maple syrup, optional

In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine ground flax seed, applesauce, almond milk, cinnamon and salt. Bring to a light boil and immediately turn down heat to medium. Whisk frequently for 3 to 4 minutes, until mixture is thickened into a porridge-like consistency.

Transfer to bowl and drizzle with maple syrup, if desired.

NOTE: Ground flax seed becomes rancid very quickly, so if you grind some ahead make sure to store it in the freezer.

Apple and Flax Seed Porridge