Dealing with Nights, Odd Hours, and Shift Work

I work long and odd hours. My primary job consist of 10.5 hour shifts and those shifts vary in start times. I may work an early morning one day and the next day have to come in the afternoon. While it does afford me some flexibility, it also makes it difficult to have consistent sleep times. Also it makes it difficult to go to the gym at a certain time each day. If there is one health and fitness department where I am lacking it is in the sleep category. But I am a night owl and I prefer working under the cover of darkness…much like Batman.

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In addition to the odd hours, I work quite a bit of extra shifts to earn money. While these jobs are all voluntary, they often are during overnight hours or tacked on to the end of my shift often leaving me with 15+ hour work days. I have grown accustomed to it and I have developed a few habits that help me cope with the ever changing and long hours.

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Regardless of when you wake up consider your first meal breakfast. Honestly, this is one of the best pieces of advice I can give people that are working late night hours. In fact the thought of this came to me recently when a guy that I supervise called me at 2 in the afternoon to ask a question. When he asked if it was a bad time I replied “no I’m just eating breakfast”. He seemed surprised that I considered my afternoon meal breakfast. I was eating scrambled eggs w/ hot sauce, oatmeal, and a black coffee at the time. I had worked a late overnight shift and didn’t wake up until noon so this was in fact my breakfast.

How does this help? Well it helps me my giving me some normalcy to my day and not making me feel like I need to make up for missing a breakfast. It also helps me develop a rhythm regardless of what I did the night before. What I found in the past was when I tried to eat lunch when I woke up I would eat more because I thought I was actually eating lunch and breakfast. Later in the night after dinner I would get hungry again and then eat a breakfast type meal early in the morning. You can see where the calories start adding up here. I think the other way it helps is it helps me feel normal, regardless of the time of day. I eat breakfast when I wake up a few hours later eat a lunch and a few hours later eat a dinner meal before I go to sleep. Sprinkle a few snacks in between and you have a regular day…just not at regular times.

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The other piece of advice I can give is to be mindful of your time. Very often those of us that work nights or odd hours realize that we are working when everyone else is sleeping and vice versa. This means that when we wake up there are often only a few hours if any for us to take care of errands, appointments, and other tasks that operate during business hours. This means that we have to plan our time outside of work to allow us to get those things done while also allotting for some time to rest and recuperate.

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The last bit of advice is to cut yourself a break. Research has shown that people that work nights have a higher level of stress than those that do not.  Of course we all want to make it to the gym everyday, or jog, or whatever else is your go-to fitness routine. The thing is, those of us that work those nights may need more rest and will feel more fatigued because of it. So if you miss the gym or your run once in a while you will do more harm stressing about it. Just plan to make it next time, and be mindful of the calories and macros you are taking in to compensate.

I’m always interested to hear how others have coped working those odd hours.

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