How to keep your sanity when working the night shift
According to the most recent data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), around 15 million Americans work full time on evening shifts, night shifts, rotating shifts or other irregular schedules. Within the hospitality industry, night auditors are not the only professionals working the wee hours, either. Positions including security officer, groundskeeper, front desk agent, maintenance engineer, housekeeper, steward, banquet setup, cook, room service, concierge and many more also require night shifts. If your employer asks you to burn the midnight oil, here are a few tips to help you keep your sanity while living like a night owl.
Exercise before your shift. Physical activity is important for the prevention of cardiovascular and other diseases. It’s also necessary for weight maintenance and healthy sleep. Unfortunately, many night shift workers find it difficult to fit exercise into an already strained scheduled. If you can’t squeeze in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times a week – before your shift, not after – break your workout up into quick 10-minute segments you can complete during your work breaks. Activities such as bodyweight exercises, simple yoga poses and brisk walks up and down flights of stairs are easy to complete in a hotel environment.
Limit the caffeine you drink. It can be tempting to rely on coffee or energy drinks to stay alert during a night shift. However, consuming too much caffeine or drinking it too late in your shift could prevent you from sleeping restfully once your shift ends. Drinking water instead will keep you hydrated and functioning optimally. And if you must have some caffeine, just make sure to drink your last cup at least four to five hours before you need to sleep.
Don’t skimp on nutrition. It can be difficult to get a well-balanced meal in during a night shift when vending machines and drive-throughs are all that are open. Many night shift pros recommend eating a big, healthy meal before your shift and bringing snacks – such as hard boiled eggs, cheese, nuts, tuna and other good-for-you foods that provide plenty of protein – to keep you alert and energized throughout the night. Others prefer grazing: eating five to seven small meals during their waking hours instead.
Prepare for sleep. Sleeping during the day is naturally difficult for many people. If you’re among them, you may have to trick your body by utilizing blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out the sunlight. Ear plugs and/or a fan or white noise machine can help prevent outside noise from disturbing your slumber. Experts also recommend turning off your phone, keeping your room between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and breaking the recommended seven to nine hours of rest into pieces (such as five hours when you get home and a two-hour nap before your shift) if needed.
Use your time off strategically. Rather than trying to tackle time-consuming chores, such as grocery shopping and laundry, during the few hours you have between sleeping and your night shift, save them for your scheduled days off. You can also use this time to have lunch or dinner with friends, spend time with family and prep healthy meals and snacks for the week. If your benefits include paid time off, don’t hesitate to use those days when you need them. Periodic mini-breaks and scheduled vacations allow you to live like a “normal” person for at least a short while.
Maintain your support network. If your friends have never worked the night shift, they may find it difficult to understand why you cannot be available to them during what they consider “normal” hours. Building relationships with other night shift workers can help, as they understand the erratic schedule and challenges these positions require.
It’s also important to be upfront with your loved ones and manage their expectations. You’ll have to arrange family time around your schedule, and you may occasionally need to ask your significant other for extra help in the event of unexpected complications such as sick kids, snow days and school emergencies. Having a plan in place will help to keep everyone at least a little more satisfied with the situation.