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10 tips to help you survive the night shift

Tagged In:  Health

With around three million people in the UK now working night shifts, there's plenty of survival advice on offer, ranging from official HSE guidelines to personal tips from night workers. Obviously, doctors and nurses make up a significant proportion of the workforce who regularly work unsocial hours. So, we thought we'd take a look at some of the more interesting coping strategies that are out there. Here's our top 10...

Pre-shift exercise

Doing some form of moderate (not vigorous) exercise immediately before your night shift can help increase your alertness. If the exercise is outdoors, exposing you to daylight, so much the better.

Plan your work pattern

You're most prone to tiredness and distraction around 4 am. If possible, try to avoid doing repetitive or monotonous tasks at that time.

Avoid stimulants and sedatives

It's tempting to rely on caffeine to help you stay awake, and sleeping pills to help you sleep. Coffee can give you a quick buzz, but having too much can lead to insomnia or withdrawal symptoms. Natural alternatives that aid sleep include lavender, passion flower, hops, orange blossom, Scot's pine, camomile and peppermint. Believe it or not, the Sleep Council recommends a banana, marmite and lettuce buttie!

Look after your health

Research shows that having a healthy lifestyle can help combat the negative effects of night shift work. A good diet, regular meals and exercise can all help improve sleep quality, health and well-being.

Fuel your body

To help you stay energised and alert, make sure your body is well hydrated with water or fruit juices and eat 'slow energy release foods' such as nuts and dried fruit.

Think ahead

Try to get tasks like the weekly shop out of the way before you start your round of night shifts. The last thing you want is to be subconsciously worrying about stocking up with pasta or toilet rolls while you're trying to concentrate on your work. Plus you'll save a tiring trip to the supermarket after your shift.

Manage your social calendar

Friends and family who work normal hours don't always appreciate what it's like to be a night shift worker. Avoid being pressurised into socialising during or after a run of nights and make sure you check your work schedule before making plans.

Try not to drive

If possible, it's a good idea to avoid driving home immediately after your night shift because you're at increased risk of an accident. Take public transport or a taxi, or at least have a rest before you set off. 

Reset your body clock

After your last night shift it's important to try to get your body clock back on its default setting as quickly as possible. Try napping to make the most of the day, and go to bed early to get as much sleep as you can and hasten your return to a normal bedtime pattern.

Keep it dark

When you're trying to sleep during the day, avoid sunlight as much as possible because your body reacts to it. Wear dark glasses, invest in black-out curtains or blinds, or wear an eye mask. Don't be tempted to surf the net before you go to bed and avoid constantly checking your smartphone or tablet – artificial light can also be bad for your body clock.

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