Without shift workers, the world would grind to a halt. I’ve often wondered how people who work these wild hours actually manage to do it and still stay on top of their game — so I found a few and asked them.
“I honestly love the freedom of night shift work. I really enjoy the still of night and the space it allows me to just relax my mind. Of course, work has its own sources of stress, but the world outside at night is peaceful and it makes work challenges feel easier.
I would say the main thing I do is avoid the things that I know will affect my mood and performance when I’m at work at least a day before a shift — partying, alcohol, “bad” food, not prioritising sleep — it sounds simple but these things are cliches for a reason, they work!”
“For me, it’s crucial that I eat and sleep right, so I make that priority number one. Eating right for me means I cook everything I eat — by that I mean I do not order takeaway — I used to think this was daunting but my diet is pretty simple and I’m really on a roll when it comes to cooking so it’s all done pretty quickly.
I have a good system of meal prepping and eating nutritious food that feeds my body and mind. And I do whatever is in my power to get those fabled eight hours of sleep whenever I can.”
“I would say managing wellbeing is extremely tricky when doing shift work, your body clock is always out of whack. I can literally feel when I am getting burnt out or overworked due to the odd hours, you get extra tired and snappy so I do the following:
Regular meditation, deep breathing, and guided meditation on my phone. I’ll take myself shopping or book a massage once a month. I ensure to read before bed instead of going on my phone and leave space in my life to regularly catch up with friends who don’t work at the same job.
When I do night shifts I prepare healthy snacks so I don’t overeat, and I try and sleep normal hours on days off. I journal often, and don’t set a strict gym schedule because of weird working hours — I just do what feels right and what I enjoy, and make sure I don’t feel guilty if I don’t go to the gym after a night shift.
I take at least two weeks of annual leave a year to just rest and relax. I spend as much time as I can with loved ones, talk to work colleagues if my mental health is starting to get affected, and I leave work at work.”
“I make friends with other shift workers who can go to the beach with me at lunchtime on a Tuesday. But I also keep space for the people grinding that 9–5 so your life doesn’t become your job.
I also schedule social events well ahead of time to make sure that I can make them. Most importantly, prioritise sleep. My main issue is the social aspect though, I don’t mind the whack hours.”
“The way my shifts are structured, I’m often finding myself with long stretches of not much to do. I used to think this was a negative aspect of my job because I’d get so bored. But I’ve learned to make the boredom work for me… by learning! Language learning apps are my best friend on quiet night shifts. I actually pick a different language a month, which keeps things fresh and exciting, and most importantly makes me really look forward to going to my Spanish lessons (work).”
“I make sure I always meal prep for work with a variety of foods — keep it interesting to stop myself from buying food that’s not so good for me while on shift.
Learning to say no to things is also important. Sometimes I’m just at my emotional capacity and need to be alone in front of the TV.”
I do 12-hour shifts. 50% of these are night shifts. These tips seem obvious, so obvious that you may forget to try and apply them consistently, but trust me, they work.
Tip 1: Plan and request your shifts if you can, find out what works for you. Splitting up your nights or doing them all in a row (I much prefer the latter because it’s less disruptive for my daily life).
2: Exercise when you wake up before night shift. Obviously exercise is good etc etc blah blah, but this one is a game changer. My legs get swollen on nights, my digestion is ruined and my mood is off, but consistent exercise (even just 10 minutes) seems to fix this the best.
3: Have a routine that’s contextual for your changing shifts. For example, I always cook and shop before my first nightshift, or I always make time for my hobbies on my first day off, so it doesn’t matter what days the shifts are or what order they are in; think of them like interchangeable parts you can mix and match (Having no consistent routine still sucks though, no two ways about it).
If this has inspired you to work on establishing healthy habits for your mental wellbeing, – be it cooking, exercising, or journaling, Queensland Health have some great tips to get you started.