Ask Stew: Night Shift (Training, Living, Eating and Sleeping)

WorkingNights

Working night shift is common for any Tactical Profession. Military, Police, Firefighter, and EMT often have a few days of the week where their job requires working all night. Having a regular schedule of night shift work is easier to acclimate too compared to back to back night and day shifts. Both situations can be more easily managed with a few rearrangements of your schedule. Here is an email from a young man who is joining the military but currently works as an EMT.

Stew, I'm trying to start training for the military. I am currently working overnight as an EMT. (10p-9a Tues-Thurs) On these days, how do I replace my morning workout and how do you recommend that I handle eating late at night or exercising?

Congrats on your future profession as well as your current skillset. Your EMT training will come in handy in your future in the military as well. Getting used to the night shift and having energy to train after has always been a challenge when irregularly scheduled night shifts, however, by shifting your day twelve or so hours, you may find adding a workout easier. Here are some tips:

1. I would focus on getting the workout done BEFORE your shift. Especially the night shift, you will find the workout BEFORE your shift as a good wake up for the normal sleep hours you may have.
2. Eat your meals and snacks as you normally would as if your shift was 10 am to 9 pm. These meals can be smaller as you typically are not as hungry overnight, but still need to eat for energy if moving, driving, working, and need to stay awake. Focus on not eating foods that make you sleepy like sugary snacks, breads, and drinks. Eat light mix of proteins (meats, eggs), complex carbs (fruit , vegetables), and good fats (nuts, fish, olives etc.).  
3. Once you shift is done, you will be tired.  Try to unwind an hour or two. Maybe run a few errands and get a solid "day" of sleep. If you can sleep from noon to 6 or7 pm, you will be ready to roll for the night shift.

However, to be more realistic, it is likely you may have to get 3-4 hours of sleep in the morning or afternoon and a few more hours before your shift. Just save an hour to get a solid workout and clean up in before your shift.

Shift work is not easy, but it can be easier to acclimate to them when you shift your sleep, meals, and activity to help you stay away when the body naturally wants to slow down and sleep.

Tips for the Night Shift:

  • Workout before your shift.
  • Avoid caffeine 3-4 hours before you are trying to get some sleep.
  • Blacken out and make your room dark when sleeping during the day.
  • Keep your room quiet if possible and consider "sleeping music" to get sleepy and distract from the day's noise.

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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