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December 17, 2018

Tips for night shift workers

While the 9-5 grind is typical, one in five Canadians works night shifts. A large portion of these shift workers are working in health care. While these jobs are very rewarding, they do come with challenges. We’re sharing some tips for night shift workers to help you feel your best in the workplace.

Staying alert overnight

Although your internal clock may tell you it’s time for bed, night shift workers will need to stay awake and alert. To keep concentration and productivity high, there are some steps you can take. Tackle more complicated tasks at the start of your shift and if possible, try to vary your work routine throughout the shift to stay fresh. Talking with a coworker, bringing in a bright lamp, and staying cool can help. If you take medications, discuss your work schedule with your doctor to determine the best time to take them to avoid drowsiness.

Eat foods that energize you

Though your work shifts may change, try to keep your eating schedule consistent. Have your main meal before your shift and eat healthy snacks rather than full meals while you’re at work to boost your energy level. Eating small portions at night is the best way to prevent health problems like obesity and diabetes. Eating a full meal may cause drowsiness and indigestion.

Avoid fried foods and foods high in fat that are hard to digest, and sugary snacks that lead to cravings and spikes in blood sugar. Instead, opt for snacks like apples, carrots, whole-grain crackers, yogurt, hummus, or protein-rich foods like peanut butter, eggs, tuna, and roast turkey or chicken. Save carb-rich foods like breads and cereals for a light meal in the morning before bed.

Planning ahead and packing snacks will help you avoid vending machines and fast food when your stomach rumbles during the night.

Stay hydrated

Trade your coffee for lots of water to stay alert. Caffeine and sugary carbonated beverages can cause an initial spike in energy followed by a decline. Too much caffeine can dehydrate you and cause fatigue, plus it can irritate your stomach and interfere with your sleep when you get home. If you enjoy your coffee, drink it at beginning of your shift.


Strive to get active for at least 30 minutes each day. Take breaks from your work to get up and stretch, walk around your work space, or take the stairs. If you sit most of the time, try standing to do your work. Take some time for deep breathing breaks to increase oxygen to the brain. Check out our desk stretches to reduce pain and injury and learn how to organize an ergonomic work space.

Catch enough Zs

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep, so make it a priority. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed, don’t go to bed hungry, and use blackout curtains and earplugs to make sure you’re able to sleep during the day.

Driving home safely

Ensure you get enough sleep the night before your work shift so you can perform well and safely drive home in the morning. Drive carefully and be aware. If needed, take a quick nap at your workplace before getting behind the wheel or do a quick exercise to get energized. Consider using public transport or carpool so you have someone to chat with.

Managing lifestyle

Shift work can make it hard to catch up with loved ones when you’re on different schedules. Plan some meals together where possible and let friends and family know your schedule so they can include you in social activities.

For more information on Shift Work nutrition, see our guide.