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How to Work the Third Shift and Stay Healthy

Tips on Sleep, Nutrition and At-Work Activities


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I work as a sleep tech and work 7:30p to 7:30a. I totally agree with those of you who go straight home after work brush teeth and go to bed. It is EXCELLENT sleep habits. Just had to say that and give you a huge thumbs up!

My main question is how do you track your food on days that you flip your schedule? I work Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Sometimes I get a nap Friday before work sometimes I don't. I typically try to stay up Monday after getting off work till 6pm then crash. So when you are tracking your food and your calories... what do you do??? I mean because technically you are up for 24 hours, Do you still follow the 1300 calories or do you draw a line at midnight?? Anyone have any advice? Report
I, too, work a ROTATING 12 hour shift and FINALLY found the secret to sleep, energy AND weight loss!! Make sleep the #1 priority: i force myself to stay in bed for 7-8 hours When i get home at 5:30 am, wash or shower, floss and brush my teeth and go straight to bed--and do almost every suggestion listed.
After 8 hours in the sack and a light snack, I have plenty of energy to do a workout, shower, get dinner ready and back to work.
Lost 25 lbs this year so far: )
Yes, it does mean reorganizing your home life. i try to give my family lots of attention on my off days--but i am lucky as i have no small children and a very understanding husband. Report
I have been working 3 12hr nights for 11 years, 7p-7a, as a nurse. This shift worked best for our family and still does, as it allows me to get home before the girls head off to school, and get up when they get home. I still wonder about returning to days, but as the hours allow me greater flexibility to be at the girl's activities, as well as give me valuable time off during the week to do things most people have to save for weekends or evenings, I really love it.

That being said, as I've hit my 40's, the times when I lose sleep b/c of it really hurt me now. I've gained weight quicker, my temper is shorter and my energy gets low.

I've read articles like this one before and started adopting some of the practices a couple of years ago, and they have made a WORLD of difference!!

I try to go to sleep right after my girls leave for school (8:30) - no dishes or laundry or puttering on the computer anymore. And I try to stay asleep until they get home, around 3:40. I use a sound machine (and a fan in the summer, to block out the louder summer noises) to keep me from being disturbed, I wear a sleep mask to help my body feel like it's darker and my curtains are closed completely. Of course, there are those days when I wake up early and can't fall back asleep -- on those days, I just try to go to bed earlier.

When I'm at work, I bring the healthiest food I can with me, so I'm not (as) tempted by the high sugar, high carb junk that surrounds me -- and it keeps my energy levels stable, I don't need as much caffeine, and my stomach doesn't get upset anymore. I also try to do some quick excercise, like the stairs, at least once -- boosts my energy level, keeps my metabolism going and makes me feel like I'm at least doing SOMETHING for my body when I'm on a few nights in a row.

The biggest thing I think is family support -- a lot of women (and men) I know who work nights have families that just don't get it, and wake them up continuously to ask questions, resolve issues, etc. Their kids are allowed to be loud and bang on the door, because mom or dad is "just napping". Or, they themselves allow dr's appts and activities to get scheduled on days when they should be sleeping, instead of re-arranging things to accomodate their sleep schedule.

I've been lucky enough to be married to a man who worked nights before we got married, so he gets it, and has always kept the kids quiet or taken them somewhere on the wknds so I can sleep - and they love getting out of the house! We plan things out in advance so I don't need to get woken unless it's an emergency, and I can tell you the three times I was - when my father was terminally ill, when 911 happened, and when my youngest DD broke her nose at school. (The schools know to call my husband 1st)

So, my biggest advice to those who think this article doesn't work, or it's impossible to make nights work is to change how you handle things... unless you're truly not a night person and just hate it, there really are ways to make it work and be beneficial, if you take care of yourself and treat yourself right, and help those around you to understand what you need. After all, we all make accomodations for people who work the day shift -- why shouldn't they help us out, too?

Good luck to all my fellow shift workers... hopefully, we can all find the balance! Report
I work 12 hour nights (7p-7a) and have for about 20 years. Yes, it was difficult to keep everything up when the kids were growing up but now that they have left the roost I no longer have to try to be up during the day. I manage 7-9 hours sleep every day and maintain my night schedule, even when I am off ( thank goodness for 24 hour stores). I do all of errands in the middle of the night since that is my awake time. I try not to eat much after 2am and I rarely drink caffeinated beverages, unless I am desperate. These eating tips are nice but I still have a hard time fitting in 3 meals in a day. I barely have 10 hours from the time I get home until the time I must leave for work. This doesn't leave much room for much of anything else. Report
This article is meaningful MAYBE IF you only work 3rd shift part of the time...or have "shifting" shifts; BUT, FOR A TRUE THIRD SHIFT WORKER THIS IS NONSENSE.
Some of your advice equates to telling the 9-to-5 worker to come home, forget dinner (just maybe a little snack instead), forget any evening activities and just go directly to bed. Then, get up @3am (otherwise I'd be sleeping way more than 8 hours which is not a good thing). Surely I'd be exhausted at work during the day if I'd spent 5 or 6 hours doing things at home before coming to work. I'd probably be ready for a nap about the time I needed to leave for work.
There are some good points here for anyone but they are buried among some bad ideas.
Just think - if you work third shift and follow all of this, you would never see the sun in the winter (except maybe during part of your commute home from work). That would be worse than death to many people. Report
I work second shift but I found a lot of these tips really helpful :) Report
I had to return to working the night shift after a work injury, which sucked but have come to accept that this is where I need to be to get healthier. I have managed to get into a fairly great sleep routine where I get between 7-9hrs, which is awesome because the 1st few times I was on nights I wasn't able too. However working almost 50hr/week is leaving me feeling unmotivated and flabby. I'm always on teh look out for a 'normal' eatting routine and ways to get motivated to do some sort of physical activity before coming to work or during work hour - this is my nemisis. Sometimes I wish you could buy 'motivation' in a bottle :) Report
I just couldn't do it. I would fall asleep at the wheel or something. I was never good at staying up late and being functional even in my younger days. I need my sleep. Report
Good tips! I work 3 shifts, and there's no regular pattern whatsoever. We get 6 weeks shifts ahead, and next 6 weeks list one week before list we are doing ends. There can be mornings (7 am - 3 pm), evenings (1.30 pm - 9.30 pm) and nights (9.15 pm - 7.15 am) in whatever order. That is bit annoying, having some regular cycle would be easier, I think. Like now I have 3 nights, 4 days off, four morning shifts, one day off, two evening shifts, one morning shift, one day off, evening, morning, evening, evening, morning, two days off... and then starts next list, which we don't have yet.

I think I have adapted my meal times quite well if I have more than one or two night shifts in a row. I just act like afternoon was my morning and that evening is after 7 am when I go home. But I can notice that my energy level isn't as high as with morning or evening shifts... Still, worst case in my work is combination evening followed by morning. I'll get home at 9.30 pm and morning shift starts at 7 am. So there's only 9 and half hours between shifts, and in that time I have to drive home, get myself ready for bed, do morning stuff and drive back to work. So not likely I am getting 7 hours sleep or even 6...

But well, this is my choice, I chose profession with round the clock work (nurse), I can't complain (too much). Report
This article was an eye opener, I had no idea that night shifts can affect ones body so badly. I work only two night shifts a week, and i never eat at night. I tried to figure out my eating pattern for last 6 months and what works for me is eating during the day. I dont get continuous sleep however, i hit the gym as soon as im back home, eat breakfast, do some stuff, fall asleep for maybe 3 hrs and than i eat evening meal. If i have no time for meal no 3 i just take some fruit and veg to work, but usually im not hungry when i get there. Now i got another job and will be working days, back shifts and nights mixed in one week. I will try to incorporate some advice from the article regarding sleep pattern, maybe it will help keeping my energy levels. Report
Don't do what I did. I worked 9pm to 7:30am for seven years while caring for my children and homeschooling them during the day. I had to be alert in the day as well as the night and slept in one or two hour intervals. I only worked part time but it was rotating days. During that time I think I aged 20 years rather than 7. This is also when I really started having a weight problem probably because we ate hamburgers and such at 2am. Report
I work 7p-7a in a carecenter 3 nights a week some nights I run all night some just sit behind the desk. I never know when to eat and sleep because I do not have a fixed schedule and I TRY to live like"normal" people on my days off I have gained around 50lbs since college and going to nights if anyone has any ideas or advice I will gladly accept Thanks:) Report
I have been 3rd shift (11p-7a) in security for 10 yrs full time. Although I only get an average of 6 hours of sleep, I have managed to get an eating routine that works for me. I am maintaining weight, and am working on eating healthier, but it's a slow process. I think of my meals just opposite of day shifters. I wake up around 5pm. My breakfast is the most important meal of the day...dinner for my family. I eat a good meal around 6. Gets me going. Then on my way to work I have a snack (10p). My lunch I try to get in about 1230 or 1. That figures with normal people lunch time. I limit cafeene after 1 and will grab some yogurt and juice around 5am before I leave shift so I am not tempted to eat a huge meal when I get home. I get home about 730am, eat a light "dinner" and get a few things done around the house before getting to bed around 930am. Like I said, I am trying to eat healthier and get moving more, but for now I have a schedule that works. Report
I work only 40 hours a week. But great article. Thank you Report
I work in health care too & work 3A-3P....I'm doing pretty good with eating, but my sleep habits are terrible. I should go to bed about 6 at night but sometimes don't make it there until close to 9. I just keep telling myself that it's only 3 days a week!!! It does take me a couple days to "catch up" though....if only money grew on trees!! Report

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