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How do I deal with rotating shifts?


Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc | Photodisc | Getty Images

Nothing is harder than flip-flopping from days to nights. It messes up your circadian rhythm—and your life.

If you have a choice, ask for a day/PM rotation, rather than a day/night rotation. Day/PM is much easier on your body, simply because you always sleep at night—when it’s dark out and your body naturally craves sleep.

But if you absolutely must rotate between daylight and nighttime hours, begin getting ready a few days before the switch. Ideally, you’ll have a few days off between a stretch of days and a stretch of nights, so take advantage of that time by staying up a bit later each day; doing so will help your natural circadian rhythm adjust.

On the day of your first night, try to take an evening nap. If you can sleep, great. Those extra hours will come in handy later. If not, try not to worry about it. Stressing about the shift rotation only makes things worse.

Prepare for your shift by drinking some coffee or other caffeinated beverage (if that’s your thing), and pack a variety of light, nutritious food—plus a sweater. You’ll need to eat sometime during the night, but since your body isn’t used to eating at night, small, frequent snacks (a banana here, some yogurt there) will sit better than a large meal. The sweater will come in handy around 2 a.m., when your core body temperature drops in response to your circadian rhythm.

After your shift, spend some time unwinding, then devote the day to sleep. Invest in room-darkening shades, turn off the phone and refuse to answer the door. If you wake up after a couple of hours, lie in bed for a while instead of jumping out of bed. You just might doze off again, and your body really does need the sleep.

Some experts say that shorter rotations—three to four days versus seven or more—are easier on the body. Whatever the length of your rotation, try to build in ample recovery time before moving back to days. Working nights, getting home at 8 a.m. and then reporting to work the next morning at 7 is just too hard on the body. Try asking for a three- or four-day stretch to readjust before moving back to days.

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2 Responses to How do I deal with rotating shifts?

  1. LPN Sophie K.

    Some people- like myself- prefer to rotate rather than work straight nights– at least there is some normalcy in the weeks of day shift work to keep you sane. I do agree that light snacks are better than heavy meals, and more days off in between are better than one. I have found that after my last night shift I force myself to wake up the next day around noon or one. Although I may be tired for the rest of that day, I am able to sleep that night and get back onto a somewhat normal rotation the following day. It is hard work but looking at the benefit of only working three days a week vs five makes those long nights all worthwhile. Definitely do all that you can to reduce distractions during the day of sleeping so you can get some sleep.

  2. Pat Nesler

    I have worked on shifts that rotate every 7 weeks from days to nights. 6AM to 6PM day shift. 6PM to 6AM night shift. Been doing this for 32 years. This will definitely shorten your life. I retired a year ago and am still having issues waking up at night. My doctor says it may take years for my body to some how correct itself. If at all possible do not work shift work. Your marriage and your family will appreciate what they do not have to go through. We had a 50% divorce rate with our company because of this issue. Very hard on families.