In a working girl’s life, at some stage or another, you’ll probably have to work a night shift. Having barely made it through a surprise 12-hour night shift at the end of a horrendous first week back at school, on top of having a terrible head cold, I didn’t exactly handle the days following my lengthy stunt awake too well. So, in hindsight, with the knowledge of where I went wrong, I set about coming up with tips for others that may be heading into their first night shift at work so they wouldn’t end up exhausted and crying in a swimming pool over a dog at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. (Yes, really. It was bad.)
Do: Expect to stay later than planned. I had been asked to work a shift for our stocktake from 5pm to 2am, which seemed reasonable enough to me considering I would get the whole day to relax and only have to stay up an extra 2 hours past my usual bed time. Little did I know my workmates and I had to do double the amount of work that was to do since some coworkers pulled out last minute, leaving more work for less people. By 2am we had finished the extra work and started on our department. We finished and left at 5am.
Do: Bring coffee, energy drink, or some form of edible energy. You’re going to be staying up into the early ours of the morning so make sure you’re keeping energized. Chocolate bars or lollipops work wonders, as does Red Bull in a water bottle. Also make sure that you’re eating regularly – my bosses kindly bought us pizza and fruit and handed out water, but if food isn’t being provided make sure you have something to eat for your breaks. Sipping ice cold water really helps – and you can always splash it on your face if that proves to be more effective!
Do: Head straight to bed when you get home. Even if you get home at 6 am, your body needs to rest. Doing a night shift is a bit like getting off a long distance flight: you’ll probably feel jetlagged and wake up at odd times of the day, but your body will get back into routine over the next day or two. Make sure you get at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep, even if it means you’ll wake up in the afternoon, as your body and brain need to recharge. Turn off your phone and laptop as they’ll only be distractions. If you need to set an alarm to avoid altering your body clock so much that you become a night owl, go for it, but make sure you’re getting a night’s worth of sleep.
Do: Let your family members/roommates/household know you need sleep. I sent my parents a text for them to wake up to letting them know what time I’d finished and politely asked them to stay as quiet as they could the following morning so I could get enough sleep. (Also, remember to let them know prior to your shift that you’ll be working into the night. You don’t want worried voice messages and your phone blowing up asking where you are at 3 am.)
Don’t: Try and stay up the whole day. You! Need! Sleep! And! Rest! Unless you’re a super human or usually work nights your body won’t be used to staying up for periods of time that long. The last thing you need is to be collapsing of exhaustion – even if you can only manage a few naps or end up lying down with your eyes closed listening to some music, get some rest girl!
Don’t: Do a lot of physical activity the following day. I thought what I needed was fresh air and cold water to wake me up, so I went on a long walk to the beach, followed by a trip to my friend’s house for a swim. Boy, was I wrong! Your body will still be adjusting to having been awake for up to 24 hours the night before, and even if you got sleep after your shift, you still need to rest the following day! Curl up with a book, watch some Netflix, or do light activities like gaming or cooking that don’t require a lot of energy. You don’t want to be crying in a swimming pool or almost falling asleep on the sand like I was.
Don’t: Work a shift the next day. Most bosses shouldn’t even be thinking about asking someone to work straight after a night shift, but if a manager asks, say no. You won’t be able to perform your best on lost sleep, even if it is for a few hours. You’re more than likely legally entitled to a certain amount of hours in-between contracted shifts. You deserve a day to recover from the night shift you’ve just worked, especially if you’ve stayed overtime. If this proves difficult, offer to pick up a shift later on in the week you wouldn’t usually work, or get a work mate to cover you in exchange for one of their shifts.
Don’t: Try to fix your body clock right away. You’ll most likely need time to adjust your sleeping schedule after pulling an all-nighter. It might mean you go to sleep a few hours earlier than normal, or wake up later than expected, for the next few days. If that’s the case, move your whole daily schedule back with your body clock. Make your night routine fit how your body feels – even if showering and getting into pyjamas at 4pm seems odd, your brain will thank you later!