Whether or not you work straight nights or rotate between shifts, chances are that you switch back into daytime hours when you’re off work to spend time with friends and family. When we consider that, on average, our bodies need approximately one day for each hour of time zone changes to recover from jet lag, it makes send that switching from nights to days is not as straightforward as flicking a switch.
Fortunately, you can speed up the process and nudge your body clock with a custom strategy that works for your individual needs. Here’s how to transition from day shift to night shift (and back again) as smoothly as possible.
Don’t leave sleep to chance. 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. This will let you switch back from nocturnal life to diurnal life and join your family and friends on your time off without being a total zombie.
Take it slow
Be gentle with yourself on your flip day as you’re beating some serious jetlag. It’s not the time for strenuous workouts, big life decisions, or lots of activity. This is a great time to plan a low-key date night with your bestie or spouse, a leisurely trip to the beach with a good book, or catch a movie with friends. Try to keep the pressure off and focus on self-care and recovery.
Soak in the sunshine
Help your body adjust by opening up the blinds as soon as you wake up. Even better, head outside to enjoy your breakfast and coffee. Getting out into the sunlight (even if it’s cold outside) promotes wakefulness during daylight hours. Spending time outdoors will likely energize you while also releasing stress. (And who isn’t feeling a bit stressed after a string of night shifts?)
Falling asleep on the night of your flip day might be easy, but staying asleep might be another story. If you find yourself regularly snapping awake, you may want to discuss the merits of a sleep aid with your doctor.
Some workers like to celebrate that their work week is done (or at least their stretch of nights!) by having merry little traditions for themselves or their family. So go get that Starbucks, make it a family pizza night, or head out on a date night with your favourite person. You’ve earned it!
Schedules to try
Going on to night
Try to do something physical “the day before the day before”. As in, if you are scheduled to work nights on Monday night, then make sure to really sweat it out on Sunday. Physical activity is good for your general well-being anyway, but it is especially helpful to set you up for a decent pre-shift sleep. Try swimming, running, boxing, a mega housework blitz or whatever works for you.
Then try one of two options:
- Stay up really late the night before and then sleep for the majority of the day before your first nightshift.
- Go to bed as usual the night before, sleep in until late morning, have a big feed for lunch then go back to sleep for an afternoon/evening nap.
Coming off of nights
When it’s time to come off nights and re-enter daytime civilization, you need to get off on the right foot so that you can enjoy your daytime schedule to the max. When you finish your last night shift, have a small breakfast and head to bed as soon as you get home. You’re in for a shorter sleep than usual, so it’s best to hit the sack right away and get up in the early afternoon to start the turnaround. Personally, I like to get up around 1 pm on my flip day.
There are a few turnaround styles to consider. Just make sure you get the amount of sleep you need before you go on to do other higher functioning after your nights.
- Have a short sleep. After breakfast, have a four-hour nap. Resist the temptation to hit snooze. Make it an easy, low impact day. Putter around and get some daylight exposure, then go to bed at your usual time.
- Have a mega sleep. Sleep for 24 hours (all day and all night). Have a glass of water, some carbs like crackers by the bed, and a clear path between the bed and the loo.
- Stay up to beat the “jetlag”. Stay up for as long as you can, going to bed around 8 PM. When awake, stay busy, get out, and enjoy the sunlight.
As a final note about coming off nights. If you suddenly realize you are too tired to drive home after your night shift, DON’T. Get a taxi or phone a friend. Seriously. Fatigue kills.
Shift Workers in the Wild
To avoid post-night’s jet-lag, do not go to sleep until an early-normal time, like 6 or 7 PM. Then have a mega sleep. As with jetlag, the body clock will recover much quicker with a really long ‘day’ (30+ hours). —Dave
I also work nights, 4 on 4 off and sometimes 5 on 5 off. The best suggestion I can give you is to sleep/nap when you can before your night shift starts, have a consistent routine, stay hydrated, and eat food. Repeat. After your last night, I would stay up until 6 or 7 PM and then have a mega sleep until early/late morning the next day. Then enjoy your days off! I finally found this routine helpful, I don’t feel sluggish/groggy, no sleeping pill needed, and I can get back to normal routine until the next set of nights. —Ted
I work nights, from 8 PM until 8 AM. I find the best method for me is to get up early the morning of my first shift, then be in bed for 2 PM and sleep for four hours before I go into work that first night. Then to switch over back to days, I sleep from 9 AM to 3 PM which allows me to go back to sleep later that evening. Also, I find it helpful to not eat huge meals during the night, just light snacks and drinking lots of water. —Erin
I’ll usually get a really early night before my first day shifts. Then after my second day shift I’ll sleep until late the next morning, get up for a few hours and have a good meal. Then I’ll go back to bed for the afternoon before my first night shift. Then after my second night shift I’ll sleep most of the day, spend the afternoon or evening socialising and then go to bed. The next day I wake up and enjoy my time off!—Unkown
Obviously, you’ll need to figure out which one works best for you. I personally cannot imagine staying up all day after working a night shift—it would end badly for both me and everyone around me. But everyone’s needs are different and our sleeping needs may even change over our careers. For example, if you’re fighting a cold or flu you may really need to sleep all day and all night after working nights.
The bottom line? Listen to your body. Figure out what works for you. And don’t be afraid to revise as needed!