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

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?

9 Benefits of Working the Night Shift

In almost every industry there are people that work all night long to keep the wheels of our modern world turning. Night shift workers work hard so others can snooze peacefully at night by keeping them safe (first responders, doctors, nurses, construction workers), keeping them fed (farmers, truckers), and keeping the economy moving (manufacturing, technical support, customer service).

If you’ve tried out working the night shift, then you know that it doesn’t take too much time to figure out some of the downsides of a graveyard schedule. You might even be wondering if working nights is actually a good decision. But did you know that there are actually some perks to working the night shift? Some employees intentionally choose to work the night shift because they may find that the benefits actually outweigh the risks and downsides of working nights.

1. Shorter commute

Chances are that you’ll be heading to work while everyone is on their way home and then reversing the process in the morning. This translates into a lot less traffic and much shorter commute time.  And if you take public transportation, then the majority of the crowd will be going in the opposite direction to you. This is a great perk for night shift workers in larger cities where commuting time can eat up a lot of their day.  

2. Less competition

There are definitely fewer people who are willing to work overnight shifts. This might mean that your odds of getting a promotion in your current position is greater. Working the night shift for even just a few years may allow you to climb the corporate ladder faster. In the meantime, you also may have access to more shifts or more overtime shifts, resulting in a bigger paycheque.

3. Better pay

Most companies pay a premium to their employees for working the night shift. Where I work, the premium is minimal and would not be enough of an incentive alone to work nights, but I do notice a difference at the end of the month on my paycheck when I’ve worked a string of night shifts. It’s definitely worth finding out if your potential employer offers a nighttime premium, also called a night differential rate. (Pssssst… some employers also pay a weekend premium, so if you can snag night shift on weekends then you may get a double dose of bonus pay.)

4. Fewer disruptions

One of the most appealing things for many workers regarding the night shift is the fact that the workplace is often quieter than normal. This makes it easier to focus because there are fewer disruptions and interruptions- both surefire productivity killers. Of course, there’s usually still some chit chat and banter, but you’ll likely find that generally more people are focused on their own tasks. This means you may actually power through your workload quicker and have leftover time to putter away on a project of your own.

5. Fewer meetings

Ahhhh, who loves being trapped in a never-ending meeting? Not me! Almost every company holds all of its meetings during the day. Working the night shift saves you time that you would otherwise spend in mandatory meetings. If you’re really interested in what happened during a meeting,  just asked for the meeting minutes or a brief synopsis. 

6. Less drama

Most night shift workers will tell you that there is less bureaucracy at night. Most bosses and upper management aren’t working the night shift. Generally speaking, the night shift has fewer employees working, meaning fewer kerfluffles and draining drama. In fact, I’ve met several nurses over the years who intentionally work exclusively overnight shifts and have for decades. When I ask them why choose a schedule that many others would reject, they tell me that they just can’t stand the drama of daytime politics.

7. Alternative availability

Some workers intentionally choose to work all night so that they can be home during the day for various reasons. Some parents work all night, then sleep while their munchkins are at school and are awake in time for after-school pick-up. And running errands is so much less stressful when you are working on the opposite schedule of most of the population… you can shop at a time when the aisles are empty and the parking lots have plenty of spots available.  

8. Slower pace

Night shift in most industries has an entirely different pace with a more relaxed environment and teamwork approach. This means a less harried pace, allowing the satisfaction of a job well done rather than a rush job. Some night shift teams actually consider themselves the “clean-up crew” because they have the time to slow down and do things methodically. From re-stocking to deep cleaning to tackling those niggly tasks that no one on day shift seems to have time for… night shift often has the time and flexibility to get them done.

9. More time for learning

Because nighttime shifts often have a different pace, there’s often more time for ongoing education. I’ve observed that the senior nurses in my department have a lot more time for hands-on demonstrations and to field questions from junior nurses during the night shift.

I’ve personally experienced the value of putting slower nights to good use. I was able to complete an entire college course certificate program while working overnights as a switchboard operator. Not only did I get paid to be there, but I walked away from that job with the education to get a career upgrade.

Some people even manage to work the night shift and attend daytime classes in order to complete a college or university course. Of course, you don’t want to sacrifice your health but it may be possible to accomplish both with careful scheduling.

After looking at the benefits of working the night shift, would you consider it? Are any of these advantages big enough to make you leave those daytime banking hours and join the secret underground world of night shift workers?

9 Benefits of Working the Night Shift

How to Pack Healthy Food for Shift Work

The difference between a good shift and a great shift is food. Food, glorious food! I don’t know how your night shifts roll out, but I find that for me some nights I am barely hungry and other nights I’m a ravenous wolf. Some nights I could snack all night; other nights I can barely find time to pee, never mind sit down for a meal. The one thing that is consistent across all my night shifts is that I regularly crave junk food. The later the night gets, the more I risk turning into a vending machine junkie. (The chips! The chocolate! The sodas! Give me one of everything!)

When I was preparing to go back on night shifts after a long spell of working days, I asked a paramedic friend for advice on he handles long shifts at all hours of the day. His instant advice? Pack great food– and lots of it. Here’s some ideas on how to do that.

Pack it up

Make it easy and convenient to bring healthy snacks to work with you by having all the right equipment. Invest in a thermal lunch bag and some glass leftover containers with snap-on lids. Get some reusable snack bags and a thermos too. Mason jars with wide mouths are great for packing a salad, veggie sticks, yogurt with granola, etc.

Know your goals

more protein = increased alertness

Incorporate high-protein foods like hard-boiled eggs, cooked quinoa, and nut butter into your meals and snacks. Other great sources of protein include tuna, nuts, & trail mix. Consuming adequate protein will increase alertness and focus.

fewer carbs = more energy

Foods high in carbohydrates- like bread, potatoes, and cereal- can have a sedating effect, especially if eaten all by themselves. Avoid loading up on carbs during your shift to ward off extra sleepiness.

no sugary drinks = no crash

A strong sugar rush may give you a temporary boost, but it is usually followed by a crash. Some research even shows that the body’s ability to process sugar declines at night.

limited portions = less sluggishness

Try to eat small, frequent meals as opposed to large heavy ones. Heavy meals often have more calories than most people need in one sitting. Eating a large portion can also make you feel sluggish or tired while on the job. Don’t use your night shift as a reason to eat massive meals in the middle of the night.

Plan to snack

Instead of worrying about cooking and packing full meals, focus on packing lots of healthy, nutrition-dense snacks. Then mix and match your meals according to how you’re feeling and whether you’re in an eating-on-the-run situation.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Carrot, celery and red pepper sticks with hummus
  • Flax and sesame seed crackers with olive tapenade
  • Bowl of plain yogurt with chopped nuts and berries
  • Almond and fruit muffins
  • Quinoa salad with vinaigrette
  • Tabouleh salad
  • Boiled eggs, already peeled
  • Energy bites or good granola bars
  • Fruit salad
  • Almond butter fudge
  • Beet or kale chips
  • Apple slices and peanut butter

Hydrate often

Your body can signal hunger and thirst in the same way. So if you’re feeling hungry, there’s a chance that you’re actually just quite thirsty. Staying hydrated is a simple way to keep you feeling both awake and full. Bring a water bottle to work and fill it often. You’ll save money on bottled drinks and keep more plastic out of the landfill. If you need some variety, infuse your water with fruit, cinnamon sticks or citrus slices for an added flavour boost without the calories.

Treat yo-self

You don’t want to feel deprived so pack one or two small treats to enjoy during your shift. That way, you’ll have already set limits before you dive head-first into the fresh box of doughnuts. (Hey, we’ve all done it– especially when it gets stressful) Having healthy snacks at your fingertips is key to clean eating while working nights.

How do you keep up with healthy eating on night shift? What do you pack up for your night shift lunch bag?

Night Shift Wellness How to Pack Healthy Food for Shift Work

How to Stay Awake During the Night Shift

Staying awake for your entire night shift is probably the difference between keeping your job and losing it. In school, you might have pulled the occasional all-nighter to finish an assignment or crunch for an exam. But the experience of working the graveyard shift, night after night, is entirely different.

If you’re a lucky duck, you may have designated breaks and a comfy place to crash for a cat nap during the night, but you’ll still need to figure out how to stay awake and alert most of the night. And of course, it’s easier to stay awake when there is lots of action. It’s the slow nights without much to do that present the real brute of a challenge. Here are some tips on how to pull it off.

Stimulate your mind

If you’re faced with lots of downtime, find ways to keep your brain busy. Keeping your mind busy is the best way to avoid accidentally snoozing.  Bring crosswords, sudoku, or other brain teasers. Listen to podcasts or energizing music. Work on a personal project, plan a vacation, browse the flyers, figure out your weekly meal plan, etc.

Engage with other humans

If you have coworkers around, chat it up. At my work, we have our best chats in the wee hours of the morning while we are struggling to keep our eyes open. Chatting makes the time fly until we have more work to do, or the day shift arrives to relieve us.

Keep it lit

A well-lit workspace plays a big role in keeping awake all night. If you work in a dim work environment (eg to keep patients asleep in a hospital ward) then at least take your breaks in full light to perk you up.

Drink lots of water

It’s healthy and it’s a natural diuretic. All that peeing can actually help you stay awake! Drinking lots of water will also help your body run at optimum levels and is especially important if you’ve been sipping coffee, which might dehydrate you a bit.

Keep moving

Move around as much as possible. Perpetual motion fights off that urge to go to beddy-bye. Kick it up to the next level with some on-the-spot fitness. Climbing three or four flights of stairs will kick up your heart rate and give you a great boost to awake. 

Chill out

Warmth can make you feel cozy and comfy and snoozy. Keep your work area a tiny bit cool to keep awake. I liked to dress in layers to accommodate fluctuating temperatures. A small desk fan circulating cool air can be helpful too. Sip cool drinks if you feel sleepiness start to overcome you.

Freshen up

Breathing in fresh air is an instant pick-me-up that can last for hours. If you can get outside during your shift -even for just a few minutes- the outside air can freshen you up. And the change of scenery is mentally refreshing.

Eat carefully

Eating meals high in carbs and low in protein can make you feel extra sleepy (think bagels, doughnuts, muffins, etc). Avoid too much caffeine, heavy meals, fast foods, sugar highs, high-fat snacks from vending machines. They offer little nutritional value and can make you extra drowsy. 

Chew minty gum

Freshen your breath and give yourself a little jolt of awakeness with a fresh stick of minty gum when you feel yourself nodding off. Spicy cinnamon gum works well too.

Sleep enough

It might seem obvious but it’s worth repeating- if you get enough Zzzzz’s during the daytime before your shift, then you won’t be as plagued by sleepiness during your shift. Check out my article Daytime Sleeping for the Night Shift for more help.

DYK? Some of the worst man-made catastrophes have been attributed to mistakes made on the night shift: the BP oil leak in Gulf of Mexico, the Exxon-Valdez oil tanker spill, the nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island, the nuclear disaster at  Chernobyl and the cyanide chemical spill in Bhopal, India. Avoiding critical errors is an important reason to stay alert all night long.

How to Stay Awake on Night Shift

How to Have a Social Life on Night Shift

Shift workers often grapple with how to have a social life when working the graveyard shift. If you miss out on too many events in a row, it can take a toll on your happiness and add stress to your relationships. Night shift workers can experience bouts of feeling ‘out of the loop’ or isolated from family and friends. I spoke with some night shift workers who have managed to balance out they’re shifty schedule with getting enough social time. Here are their best suggestions.

Communicate

Help your friends and family understand you’re on a different schedule. Explain that 2 p.m. in the afternoon for them is like 2 a.m. in the morning for you. Suggest times to get together that work with your work/sleep schedule. Try: “Let’s meet up for a bite before I head in Friday night” or “How about breakfast on Sunday morning after I finish my shift?” You might find that you have to work harder to maintain relationships with loved ones who have conflicting schedules, but it’s worth it to keep those connections alive!

Use tech to meet up

In order to meet up with good friends who work traditional hours, use scheduling apps to help you find overlapping time between your schedule and theirs. This helps take the guesswork out of your availability so you can focus on planning what you’ll do for fun instead of when you can find a few hours when you are both awake/available.

Be prepared

Be ready to socialize by using your time off when others aren’t free to take care of errands and chores. Take care of meal prep, grocery shopping, dry cleaning pickup or swimming class registration during your downtime while your friends are working. Then you’ll be ready to meet up and party on once they’re off work.

Embrace breakfast dates

Breakfast is a great time to catch up because it works with almost anybody’s schedule. You’re quitting night shift at 7 am and your friend starts her workday at 9 am? Grab some sunny side up eggs together at 7:30 am! You both need to eat breakfast anyways. It can be a great time of day to touch base with your folks, catch up with a friend, or even go on a date. Breakfast for the win!

Save up your vacation time

Save up as much vacation time as you can to use for holidays or special events with your favourite peeps. Obviously, this will depend on approval from your boss and whether others have first dibs on that time off. But your odds increase if you ask for time off as soon as possible so you can make it to weddings, rock concerts, pie eating contests, or whatever events are important to you.

Find others with similar schedules

To keep your social circle full, seek out new friends with similar working hours. Look to meet people in the same industry or in other industries with unusual working hours –  restaurants, hotels, first responders, hospital staff, security guards, etc. They might have a similar schedule to you and even if not, they’ll certainly understand the challenges of having a job with unusual hours. Chances are that they’ll be game for pre-work gym sessions, post-work breakfast meet-ups, or Netflix binges on turnaround days. etc.

Keep it short and sweet

If your family or friends are having a party that you want to attend, make sure to sleep the entire time before it begins. Have your lunch packed, your clothes ready and your work bag ready to go so you can rest as much as possible before stopping in for some socialization before heading off to work. In my experience, I can often attend events– but just the beginning. I stop in, say hello, grab some food, and then sail off to work. I usually make it clear when I accept an invite that I’ll need to dine-and-dash in order to get to work, but most hosts would prefer you come for a short time than not come at all.

Use e-mail

The beauty of e-mail is that you can write a bit whenever you have time, add to it later, and send it any time of day without waking anyone up. Personally, I use e-mail to stay in touch with my best friend in another city and my aunt in another country. It would be almost impossible to find frequent times to call or visit them with our mutually hectic schedules, but I can easily stay in touch pen-pal style. I often have quiet periods on the night shift, so I’ll type up an e-mail at 4 am to bring them up-to-date. They write back when they have time. We swap recipes, send photos and share stories. It’s a small thing that keeps us close despite conflicting schedules.

How do you keep your social life alive while working nights? Any tips or tricks you can share?

Night Shift Wellness How to Have a Social Life on Night Shift

How to Eat Clean while Working the Night Shift

Is it just my workplace, or is it standard practice to have delicious, deep-fried, sugar-laden options ushered in during the middle of the night shift? When my stomach is growling? And my resistance is lowest?

There are also generous coworkers who do middle-of-the-night coffee runs and deliver my sugary, syrupy macchiato. Not to mention the home-baked goodies that grateful patients have dropped off. And the siren call of the vending machines. Every. Single. Shift.

If your meal breaks are either hard-to-find or often interrupted, then healthy grazing is the best way to stay fuelled.

If you don’t have healthy snacks prepared, it’s too easy to start snacking on muffins, doughnuts or the pizza your coworker is sharing. Those kind of night shift diet choices start to take at toll after a few weeks, months, or years of shift work. Here’s some ideas that just might keep you out of the 3 a.m. doughnuts.

1. Plan ahead

Prep work will pay off big time. So before you disappear into the relentless grind of back-to-back night shifts, take a few minutes to get prepared with some go-to healthy foods.

  • Wash fruit
  • Chop veggies
  • Whip up some smoothies (store them in the freezer)
  • Make hard-boiled eggs
  • Cook grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.)

2. Pack snacks

Prepare for your shift the same way you would prepare a little kid’s lunch. Because by 2 a.m., we all start to feel like a overtired, very hungry toddlers. Beat the temper tantrum by filling several small resealable containers with appealing, healthy snacks.

  • Carrot, celery and red pepper sticks with hummus
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Plain yogurt with crunchy granola and raspberries
  • Oatmeal muffins with fruit & nuts
  • Quinoa salad with chopped fresh veggies and vinaigrette
  • Healthy granola bars
  • Peanut butter energy balls

3. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is a simple way to keep you feeling awake and ward off hunger pains.

  • Get a couple of good refillable water bottles and fill them up – add some lemon wedges and mint leaves for a zesty refresh
  • Invest in some high-quality tasty teas to stash at work or in your bag – make a hot tea when you’re tempted to sip a sugary hot drink to stay awake. (And if you’re like me, I get really cold in the middle of the night and need something hot to warm me up.)
  • Make a quick berry smoothie or green smoothie and stash it in the fridge until you’re ready for it. It’s portable nutrition that will fill you up without causing a sugar crash.

4. Treat yo-self

You don’t want to feel deprived or like you’re missing out on the fun. By packing one or two small treats to enjoy during your shift, you’ll have already set limits before you dive head-first into the fresh box of donuts.

  • A small bar of dark chocolate
  • Healthy cookies (yes, they exist!)
  • Chocolate-covered raisins or almonds
  • Vanilla or rice pudding

5. Use freezer bag slow cooker meals

Prepare some freezer bag slow cooker meals on your days off. Put them into the slow cooker when you get home in the morning after your shift. Go to bed, and supper will be ready for you when you wake up. Pack up some leftovers to bring to work for a midnight dinner.

Need some recipes to get started with this idea? Grab a copy of my Slow Cooker Freezer Bag: Complete Guide + Recipes for all the tips, tricks, and recipes you need.

Night Shift Diet Healthy Eating