Thursday, 29 October 2015

Ten Tips for Coping With Shift Work


I realise that for most of my readers, shift work probably isn't something you're going to be doing any time soon, however I still felt that it was worth making a little post all about how I personally cope with doing shift work in the hopes that it will help somebody - or perhaps even help somebody to understand a friend who works silly hours!

I work rotating shift work round the clock - which means that in any given week I'll have done a few early sessions, a few late sessions, and a few night sessions. Here's my top ten tips to coping with doing such a pattern, and managing a decent work-life balance.


  1. Try a few different things. I initially tried to slowly move my sleep time forward by a few hours each night so that I'd be consistent about it and hopefully my body would adjust to it. Unfortunately, that didn't work for me at all and I was completely out of it the entire time I tried that - but it works for some, so give it a go and see if that's something that works for you! With this kind of thing, you really just need to experiment.
  2. Plan your weeks out in advance. The concept of days very quickly loses all meaning to you - I very rarely have a clue what day it actually is, I just know that I have something to do on that day. Keep really organised in terms of writing out all your shifts or filling them out on your phone - and I'd recommend colour coding them as well for quick reference. I colour code mine for earlies, lates, nights, personal things, and then another colour for when I'm doing special shifts that are a bit out of the ordinary - even if they only start an hour earlier or later than normal they get this colouring as otherwise I'm likely to have a quick glance and just assume it's my normal hours.
  3. Keep your social life going. It's really common for people who work shifts to just stay with other people who do as it's much easier. Don't do this! It's more difficult, but it can be done. I prioritise my social life to the extent that I'm usually knackered when I do an early shift - I never regret this.
  4. On that note - plan your social things in advance. I like to have a lot of main things a whole month in advance, and then I fit in friends closer to dates as and when I can.
  5. However - leave your fitness things to the last minute. You don't know how you're going to be feeling, and if one shift is going to effect you more than it normally does. I very rarely book classes more than a few hours in advance now and just keep a spare gym kit in my locker. It's more important that you get the rest that you need in order to recover so if you're not feeling up to it, don't go.
  6. Accept your body clock, and don't get annoyed with it. Are you one of those people who doesn't really have one and can sleep and wake up at any time? Great, then you'll have no problem. If you're like me, you're not so lucky - I will wake up by twelve at the latest regardless of whether I went to sleep at 8am. This means that by the end of my first night shift I'll have been awake for 25 hours straight, and by the end of my second I'll have probably managed a grand total of about two hours sleep and am a complete mess. There's nothing I can do about that, so it's best to just expect it's going to happen and have a contingency plan of low level activities rather than get annoyed about it. As for my early and late shifts, I go to sleep about the same time after them - if it's an early shift I sleep at about midnight anyway, and if it's a late shift I go to sleep as soon as I get in. This works for me, for others it's better to keep moving your hours forward.
  7. Know when you're functional and when you're not. I am grumpy but otherwise okay when I'm doing early shifts. I am super functional when I'm doing late shifts. On the day before my first night shift I'm completely fine, on the in between night shifts I am a complete useless mess, and on the day that the night shifts finish I'm just useless. Know when you're going to be a functioning person and plan your life around that.
  8. If you're like me and do have shifts where you're just not functional afterwards - accept this, rather than get annoyed about it. I have a pack of low level activities that I do on those days and fully expect to not leave the house because I just don't have the energy. I colour, I have a different Netflix profile for shows that don't require too much effort, and all I eat is cereal and plain pasta. I know it's going to happen, so I just make it part of my lifestyle. Do your laundry or any mundane tasks those days too!
  9. Experiment with naps. I'm the only person on my team who can't nap. If you can, great, do it and maybe you'll function better than me. I've tried repeatedly - most of the time I just lie there getting angry and frustrated, or I successfully nap and wake up feeling much worse than if I hadn't bothered. I now know that for me it's just better to not even try, no matter how tired I get, as it's just going to make me worse.
  10. After your final night shift, make sure you don't allow yourself to sleep past twelve or so. If you're me, that's no problem because your body clock will wake you up for then anyway. If you don't, set an alarm and make sure you stay awake no matter how crap you feel - it'll make it much easier to adjust to your rest days, and then your early shifts after that.

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