Getting myself prepared to work midnight shift, I need HELP!
April 30, 2012 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How do I best prepare my body to work 3rd shift/midnight shift? Is there anything good to do in the weeks before I begin, and to maintain when I start the work? Any good vitamins, etc. that could be taken? Something healthy to help with staying awake? Some personal info inside...

Apologies for a somewhat extended thing here:
I am beginning a job at our local sheriff's department dispatch center soon. I will be working 1st and 2nd shifts during training, then moving to (and staying on) 3rd/midnight shift (11pm-7am) after some of my training is I have a few weeks, or a few months even, to prepare.
I've never worked a midnight shift (career waitress here!) and I'm not entirely sure how my body will react to the change of pace. I am normally a night owl as it is, which is one reason I requested the shift (the other being that it gives me an open afternoon if I need to do anything before work, and also gives me opportunity to continue my non-credit classes at my college). The problem is that I *KNOW* I don't sleep enough, or very well, and I would like to actually have my body not hate me by the time I am working a normal schedule!
For what it's worth, I can operate very well on little to no sleep most of the time. I've had sleep problems or insomnia-type issues for at least 15 years and don't think the initial switch will be the issue...I just don't want my body to be taking the abuse.

How do I prepare myself for 3rd shift work? I'll have 2 days off (Friday and Saturday) and would actually like to be able to function normally on those days as it's the only time my fiance and I get to see each other for longer than a few minutes. And I'd like to be able to feel decent during the afternoon leading up to work time, as I have non-credit classes I take which are one day a week from 6:30-9pm and also have those horrible "adult" responsibilities and errands to do before things close for the day. And I also don't want to be in bed until 5pm because I can't get awake enough to get out of bed at a decent time! So what time should I be waking up after getting home at 7am? What should my sleep schedule look like? Any suggestions for things to eat during the day (and things to take in at night!) that will benefit me? I can NOT do the 5 hour energy things (they have something in them that makes me violently ill), but I can drink caffeine, though I try not to as I know how bad it is for me. So any suggestions for me will be very, very welcome! =)
posted by PeppahCat to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I worked something like third shift (8pm-8am) for six months. First things first: it's going to practically wreck your social life, so I hope you're ready for that. Not just that it's going to make it harder to hang out with people, but you're going to be always in a different mood. When everyone's ready to take on the day, you can't wait to get to sleep. When you're up-and-at-'em, everyone just wants to chill out.

Start taking Vitamin D supplements, and also getting as much sun as you possibly can. The lack of sunlight does a number on you, and keeping your body full of Vitamin D is one way to ameliorate things. Realize that most people, on the whole, and even night owls, aren't built to work that shift. If you can't handle it, forcing yourself through it assuming it's going to get considerably easier is going to make you even more miserable. It does get a little easier, though.

Take melatonin when you go to sleep to regulate your sleep cycles. It'll help both with going to sleep and waking up. The hardest part is going to be the switch between the weekend and going back to work.

Unless you're doing some serious mission-critical shit, don't start drinking coffee until you're starting to feel tired. There's a point at which coffee isn't going to help, and you want to not get to that point before you have to go home.
posted by griphus at 11:06 AM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: Oh, and you may want to buy a light therapy lamp to sit under between getting home from work and going to sleep.
posted by griphus at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2012

Er, between getting up and going to work, I mean.
posted by griphus at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2012

I used to work something like that shift, and let me get the biggest rookie mistake out of the way for you: Don't plan on sleeping 8 hours the minute you get home and then having afternoons free. Do you go to bed the minute you get home now? You're going to get off at 7, have dinner, watch some TV or whatever, and then go to bed around noon or 1pm. Anything you need to get done, do it in the morning. If you try to sleep the minute you get home, you'll be miserable.

Likewise, on the weekends, try to stick to the same schedule as much as you can. Hang out with your fiance in the morning, sleep most of the afternoon, and then do something together at night.
posted by Oktober at 11:15 AM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I worked 3rd shift for 3 years, 2nd for 5 years and now currently working 1st shift.
I'm personally a night owl, so this first shift is killing me.

I never really had any issues with working night shifts - I never took any supplements or anything like that.

When I arrived home at 6:30am, I would go to sleep from 11:00am until 6-7pm or so. It was hard for me to come home and go straight to bed - as it is for most people that work 1st shift. I needed time to come home and relax, clean the house, etc. Sometimes I would go food shopping after work, run errands, etc because it was less crowded early in the morning.

If you have family and weekend stuff, it may be difficult to do things during the day, as that will be your "night time'. I personally slept through the weekend days and went out at night with friends.

So, if you feel like you can come home at 7am and go straight to bed, I'm guessing that would be the best option for you since you don't want to be in bed until 5pm.

Eventually you'll figure out what works. I'd say after two weeks or so.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:24 AM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: It's all about sleep hygiene. Keep your bedtime really consistent even if it's tempting to go to bed at 10am one day and 1pm another day. You might feel extra temptation to sleep weird hours if you're already on a weird shift compared to the rest of the world so that you can fit in socializing or errands but don't do it. You'll adapt faster if you pick a bedtime and stick with it, and your sleep will be higher quality.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:37 AM on April 30, 2012

Don't want to worry you, but studies have shown that persistent night work makes people more prone to certain cancers (that link is in French because a recent study was done in Montreal, but it isn't new news – you can find more information about it elsewhere). So be careful, eat well, rest when you need to – and try for a promotion onto evenings or days if you can.
posted by zadcat at 11:38 AM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: Also invest in some black out curtains, and a noise machine. My husband did 3rd shift (10pm-8:30am) for a year and he could never really get "enough" sleep.
posted by Sweetmag at 12:53 PM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: IANA3S, but my wife, also a 911 dispatcher, was. Here are some observations from that year. First off, it turns out that even criminals tend to turn in for the night. The 3rd shift, she reports, is incredibly slow. Expect to be bored. Bring in books, magazines, playing cards, whatever to stay sharp.

So I have a few weeks, or a few months even, to prepare.
Her coworkers all said that it takes at least a year to get used to the schedule. She worked it for a year and never quite got in rhythm. Before switching, I suppose you can try to extend your bedtime deeper into the night, but I don't know how successful this will be. It may be less about prepping your body and more about fixing up your environment. Blackout shades were a must for us. They were expensive but worth it. When sleeping during the day you are also going to be intensely aware of your neighbors' mowing routines, the garbage truck schedule, when the school buses spill out gaggles of squealing children and many other intrusions. You may also want to invest in a noise machine or app.

It gives me an open afternoon if I need to do anything before work.
This is assuming that you can get to bed immediately after getting home. My wife had to because of our kids' school schedules, but it wasn't easy. However, she was able to attain the "open afternoon" achievement.

For what it's worth, I can operate very well on little to no sleep most of the time. I've had sleep problems or insomnia-type issues for at least 15 years and don't think the initial switch will be the issue.
Well that's good, because you're going to get less than half the sleep you did before. I'm serious. My wife averaged about three hours a day.

Any suggestions for things to eat during the day (and things to take in at night!) that will benefit me?
Bring your own lunch/dinner/whatever you want to call it. My wife's coworkers all ordered out regularly. Know what's open at 2:00 in the morning? White Castle and bars. Poor sleep and shitty food is a one-two to your health. You can control at least one of these with whatever healthy foods and snacks appeal to you.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:07 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: Attempting to switch back to "normal" hours during days off is a mistake. Do whatever you can to maintain the same schedule regardless of work.
posted by dogwalker at 1:12 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having thought back to my 9-10 months on graveyard, I would add:

The first couple of weeks you are likely to notice your digestion being weird. I am not prone to digestive issues but I recall a pattern where I didn't really feel hungry at 3 or 4 a.m. when "lunch" break came: if I ate, I'd feel kind of queasy, just as you might if you got up at 4 a.m. normally and ate a sandwich. But if I didn't eat, I'd lose energy and feel worse by the end of shift.

You adjust to this, but keep in mind that at first you're eating in the "middle of the night" as far as your metabolism's concerned. Bring food, but make it stuff that's easy on your insides, and maybe try to pace it out into two or three large snacks rather than a single meal, if you can.
posted by zadcat at 1:21 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: I take an iodine supplement as part of my hypothyroid treatment. It didn't seem to be doing much of anything, until I had a family emergency and got like, 2 hours of sleep. And holy crap, I was totally functional the next day. Now I take it regularly, and helps so much when I have to stay up late. YMMV! I already have a thyroid condition, so I'm not sure if it would help a non-low-thyroid human. Also, be sure to read up on iodine, because too much can make you ill (I take one dropper per day). I buy Lugol's 2% Solution, which you can get on Amazon. I put it in coffee, tea or juice, because it tastes frackin' horrible.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 1:24 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: Also, I'd add: investigate modafinil. It's actually prescribed for shift-work issues in some cases.
posted by zadcat at 1:28 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: I will chime in and say that although it seems in theory that you can sleep as soon as you get home, in practice it is very very difficult. I have worked all kind of night shifts (20-4, 22-6, 23-7, 1:30-6, 3-9am) and the best time I had with sleeping was when I just "stayed up" and finished my day instead of trying to force myself to sleep after working and coming home with the sun rising. I would lay there and not be able to sleep and then get panicky about what time I had to get up and wouldn't get to sleep until noon anyhow, so I realized it was just best to use that awake time and sleep later, when I was tired. If you think about a "normal" work day, you get up and go to work within an hour or two and then you come home and have 5 or 6 hours to wind down before you go to bed. So for the 11-7 shift, sleeping from 1-9pm would probably work best for your body, even if it doesn't work with the rest of your life.

Speaking of your social life, you will find you will want to do stuff, but once you have switched over your sleeping schedule everything changes. I wouldn't try to "switch back" for the weekends as it will likely fail and you'll end up passed out and then awake at your normal work times anyway.

I totally lost my appetite on the night shift and then also had problems with my gut in general. I had constant intestinal distress while switching schedules because of how sleeping and eating relates to digestion. If you really want to reset yourself, you have to reset your meals as well - so eating breakfast when you get up, having lunch on shift (ie at 3am) and having dinner when you get home. Also, it really is important to keep on top of the healthy food because the last minute options are usually unhealthy and your body will be stressed out enough as it is.

As far as preparing yourself goes, if you have a lot of prep time, I'd start moving your bedtime later and later by a couple of hours each week so that by the time you have to start you won't have such a huge shock to your system. I did some research on this before and the general idea is it's easier to reset yourself forward (ie staying up later and later) than the other way around. Nothing worse then laying in bed trying to will yourself to sleep, except staying up for 30 hours because you weren't able to sleep at all.

Last year I had to switch randomly between morning/night/evening/day shifts weekly due to being a temp worker and so became accustomed to just pulling an all-nighter in order to start a new shift. It sucks and I would not recommend it. It's totally do-able but if you have had issues with insomnia in the past, I would just be very careful about your "sleep hygiene" as someone mentioned above. Switching shifts gave me insomnia and then all the daytime noise / light peeking through my curtains made it worse. Make sure you have a dark quiet place to sleep and make sure to sleep when you're tired as if you keep pushing yourself on so little sleep, you will make yourself very miserable.

Good luck!
posted by smartypantz at 3:24 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: I worked the graveyard shift for 3 years. If you are unable to invest in blackout curtains, you can get some cardboard and cut it to the size of your windows and cover with foil. Poor man's blackout shades. I had to use this method because I lived in an apartment where I could not hang curtains. It took me a long time to get used to the graveyard shift....over a year. Some people could sleep right away when they arrived home and others waited. You may need to see what works for you. It was actually nice if you like to go to the gym because there seem to be less people there between 9-11am.
posted by catseatcheese at 5:51 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: I've been on the night shift for about 4.5 years now. Here's what has worked for me and my colleagues:

Definitely get some vitamin supplements, especially vitamin D. However, nothing is going to be a good enough substitute for the sun. I've found that arranging my schedule so that I saw at least some amount of sunlight has helped a lot. Winters can be tough, since you may be getting home when it's still dark out.

You'll definitely want to invest in blackout shades. Also, consider getting a big, noisy fan for your bedroom. It will drown out any noise from the neighborhood, and will also keep the room cool. (I've found that a cooler bedroom leads to better sleep. YMMV.)

Lastly, make sure to find something to keep your mind sharp. One of the worst parts of the job is that you'll probably have long stretches of inactivity. The boredom can be miserable, and I found myself desperately in need of mental stimulation.

Good luck - it's not easy.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 5:55 PM on April 30, 2012

Response by poster: Great suggestions gang! Some stuff I never thought about on here!
I am fortunate enough to sleep like the dead so I'm hoping the noises of the normal day won't bother me much, considering I could likely sleep through the noise of Armageddon without even turning over. =P
The blackout curtains are actually owned already, so that does take care of that, and I have a lovely ceiling fan that usually keeps a decent bit of noise going, but I think I'm going to hit up the Bed Bath and Beyond or some such place and look at noise machines...I've wanted one for a while now, so I think now is as good a time as any! Also looking at some options for minor noise muffling (primarily fixing our stupid windows so they seal tighter than they are now).
I've never had many problems getting to sleep when I get home from other takes about an hour to get my teeth brushed, clothes changed, etc. and I'm normally more than ready to crash after that hour, so I figure if I'm in bed by 8am then I'll be good for the afternoon. I don't *think* there's any way I'll be able to sleep much more than 5 or 6 hours as it is, so hopefully that will work itself out. If I have to sleep longer, so be it, but going on how I operate now it doesn't seem like it will be that much different. Though I could always be wrong.
The social life isn't going to be too huge a factor considering I don't have one until after about 3-4pm as it is. LMAO. I detest mornings and would rather act like they didn't exist, so if I can sleep through them for a legitimate reason it can't be all bad!
The Vitamin D and melatonin are on the shopping list on my next trip to Walmart. I'd heard of melatonin but never really looked into it...I currently take a prescription sleep aid but don't like it because it leaves me feeling like I took a drug (which is odd, I have very few reactions to medication like that) so I'm definitely going to discuss going off the stuff with my doctor and trying out the natural thing for a while. I'm looking into several multi-vitamins and the like, but never really thought about the Vitamin D being a concern...definitely makes sense when I'll be sleeping during some of those prime sun hours! (The downside to 3rd shift...I will stay pale unless I hit up the pool on my days off! o.0)
For the downtime and those nights where the scum of the earth decide they would rather sleep than cause a ruckus: I own a Kindle (thank God) and am going to ask about having the laptop there as I'm a photographer on the side and it'd be good time to work on editing for shoots I do in photoshop. If that's not allowed then oh well, still gonna stock up on the puzzle books and such, and keep the Kindle charged.
Lastly...I think as far as food goes, I'll plan on taking something simple, or something I've cooked that I can reheat (we have a microwave and a toaster oven, and a little plug-in stove eye) and otherwise keeping lots of snacks like apples (nature's natural stimulant!), fruit salads, veggies, etc. Maybe baking cookies for the three/four of us once a week. LOL. I need to eat healthier as it is, I'm thinking this will be a good kick-start for that healthy eating and hopefully will help me out in the future.

Thanks everyone! If you don't see me on AskMeFi anymore, send someone to check on me...I may have passed out or gone insane. =P
posted by PeppahCat at 6:58 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: I've worked the late shift, in general, for the last 5 years. My own personal take -

Pros -
If you are not a morning person, awesome!
Have a night off and want to hang with friends, you'll be the one with energy all night.
Generally speaking, late shifts tend to correlate with a higher income. Hopefully.
If you can get outside, for breaks, you will be amazed by how frequently you see really cool stuff in the sky. Seriously the daytime washed out blue skies are pretty overrated.

Cons -
If you're in a relationship, or trying to start one, it's really, really hard to work this out with someone on a normal schedule. I've had more than one girlfriend get severely annoyed by the fact that i'm fully awake until 6am, easy, and they have to get up at 6:30. It's do-able, but pretty tough.
Day off? Once I fully got into the hours, sleeping in meant sleeping until 6pm, or 8pm. Tough to not feel lazy and that you've wasted the day on those hours.
More than likely your diet will go to hell. Cooking dinner after work is one thing, but when it's dinner at 3am or 6am, it's just weird and unnatural. Many living situations may require you to be relatively quiet at these hours as well. Not time to be banging pans around the kitchen. This is actually my biggest frustration, the loss of normal meals.

Good luck, and one more positive, you can meet some really interesting people and experience your town in a way many do not ever bother to fully appreciate.
posted by efalk at 8:43 PM on April 30, 2012

Best answer: I worked 7pm to 7am for a few months. Here is what I learned:

* Watch your caffeine intake. Expect at least 6 hours for it to start clearing your body, so plan accordingly when planning to sleep. (I would make sure to not have caffeine after 2am so I could sleep by 8am)

* I took half of a mild, OTC sleeping pill as soon as I got home at 7:30am. I found that if I put myself to bed within 30 minutes, it would put me out and I'd sleep well in a mostly-dark room until about 2:30-3pm. But if I waited too much after 30 minutes, it wouldn't work. This helped the most at first to get my body used to the schedule. After a month or so, I didn't need it any more. Early morning like this (and having west-facing windows in my bedroom) helped me fall asleep easier because it was still relatively dark. Light makes a big difference. Since you won't have to be to work until midnight (instead of my 7pm), you might not need to go to sleep so early.

* Schedules work well. Going to sleep right away helped me get up in time to see some sunlight.

* Expect that a lot of your thought processes will involve calculating when and for how long you will next sleep, especially on your days off. You do want to plan ahead.

* Let your friends and family know that they CAN NOT call you before noon. Turn your ringer off. Expect them to forget and call you anyway. This seemed to be the biggest irritant - trying to get them to understand your sleeping schedule compared to theirs.

Honestly, the sleep schedule didn't interrupt my social life much at all. A lot of events occur in the afternoons and evenings anyway. You just might need to get up a little earlier for some early afternoon appointments, but baby/wedding showers seem to be the majority of those for me.

I liked the night shift, too. It meant I would be able to go out and about to get errands done during the day. Night-sleepers have a tough time doing that on weekdays.
posted by jillithd at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2012

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