After spending the majority of my work life starting my shifts at 2 a.m., waking up with the sun always feels like a luxury. Millions of Americans work the night shift—reporters, law enforcement, hospital staff and truck drivers—but keeping “vampire” hours is a huge adjustment. Trust me, I’ve been there!
As a morning news anchor, you not only need to survive the overnight shift, you are required to look happy and perky while doing it. It’s a bit like walking on your hands instead of your feet. Non-traditional schedules can be tough on families, they make routine activities challenging, and could even harm your health. But… it’s not all doom and gloom. With a bit of planning and discipline, you might even learn to enjoy this shift!
I know it’s not pleasant to hear your alarm blaring in the dead of night, but the overnight shift has its perks. I typically ended my day around the lunch hour, so…
Staffing levels are thinner in newsrooms overnight, so I often found myself serving as the de facto news director. When non-emergency decisions had to be made, they landed in my lap. Consequently, I grew as a leader and broadened my skill set more than I ever anticipated.
Are you just beginning shift work? Here are a few tips that can help you make the most of your odd hours.
One of the toughest things about working overnights is maintaining your connection with family and friends. You will be awake when many of them are sleeping, so it’s natural to worry about how you will stay close. I found communication is key.
Tell your loved ones when your work day starts, when you plan to sleep, and don’t be shy about asking them if they can move things around so you can partake in family events/functions. Also, don’t be a martyr. If volume from the people around you (neighbors or family) is making it impossible to sleep, speak up! I’ve found people are quite accommodating if you honestly explain your situation.
On the flip side, you also need to learn to say NO. Sleep is precious on a night shift. You MUST learn to protect it. This means talking to your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend about keeping quiet when they come to bed. You need to have honest discussions about how they can get ready for the night without waking you and vice versa.
As you embark in your new night shift role, you need to decide when your sleeping hours will be. Can you sleep like a baby immediately after work, or do you need time to unwind first? You will want to choose whatever option works best for your body and lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to test things out. It’s hard to know how your body will respond until you’ve tried it.
Once you’ve determined when you your “waking” hours will be, you need to calculate your ideal sleeping pattern and get an idea of what your sleep minimum is. By this, I mean how much you need to feel good (for me that was 6 hrs) and how little you can get away with before it harms your job performance (3 hrs in my case). In a perfect world, we would all stick to our schedules. But let’s be honest, when you work a night shift, there will be occasions where you need to function on limited sleep.
If you’re new to the overnight club, you might be wondering how on earth you will be able to fall asleep when it’s light out. Well, it’s all about setting the tone for sleep. First, make your room as dark as possible. This is vital during the summer months. You’ll want to invest in blackout shades or curtains. I used this set. Room-darkening shades are helpful too, but do not offer as thorough light reduction. Some of my a.m. colleagues also used a sleeping mask. I never felt the need for this, but if you are light sensitive it’s worth a shot.
Try to keep as much noise out of your room as possible. This can be a challenge if your family is awake while you are sleeping. I found a noise machine or noise app on your cell phone imperative. I use the free “White Noise Generator” app by Relaxio. It soothes me and allows my hubby to watch TV at full volume.
Do you have any night rituals? Sleepy-time tea, aromatherapy, reading, stretching or meditation can also help your body wind down when the sun is still shining.
Another aspect of relaxation is softness. I’ve found I fall asleep much more readily on silky smooth jersey sheets and supremely soft PJs. Thankfully, it seems there is a lot to pick from these days. Fabric technology has improved a lot. I’m addicted to the Gilligan O’Malley sleepwear collection. The fabric feels so delicious, it instantly makes me sleepy. Best of all, this line still feels great after dozens of washes. Don’t you just hate pajamas and towels that feel luxurious in the store, only to turn to sandpaper in the wash?
On a night shift, every minute of sleep is precious. That’s why I highly recommend doing all you can to streamline your a.m. routine. This means laying out your outfit the night before and having your lunch/coffee packed and ready. In addition, is showering at night an option for you? I found evening showers a huge time-saver. They eliminated the need to blow dry my hair and helped me fall asleep more readily.
I eat sandwiches at 7 a.m., chicken with broccoli at noon and I’ve had a glass of wine at 1 p.m. Weird? Perhaps… But it’s inevitable. When your work day starts when other people are going to bed, you will have a different eating schedule too. Why fight it? That said, it is also important to make sure you are not snacking to stay awake. Plenty of people who work the night shift struggle with weight gain because they fight sleep deprivation with chips and cookies.
This last point may be a matter of contention, but I feel quite strongly about it. Have I been tempted to hit the button? You bet! When you are sleepy, every minute feels like a golden luxury. However, I believe hitting snooze just prolongs the pain. Your body isn’t getting truly restful sleep and—what’s worse—there is a significant chance you could have an alarm accident. I can’t tell you how many colleagues I’ve seen frantically running into work because they turned their alarm off instead of hitting snooze. That’s why I highly recommend a secondary alarm. There may be times you are so tired, you don’t hear your alarm. (I speak from experience)
There is so much to cover on this topic, so please let me know in the comments below if you have any additional questions about working unusual shifts. As a journalist, I’ve operated on almost every schedule in the book (nights, weekends, mornings, overnights)!
Also, you might be wondering where I am in these photos. We have just returned from a summer abroad in Australia. Evan was teaching a study abroad program in Sydney. These shots are from our AirBnB in the Daintree Rainforest in tropical Queensland. I’ll be posting about all of our crazy adventures soon, so stay tuned for that!