Working the Night Shift — Fitting in Fitness /​ Nutrition /​ Sleep

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This week’s email request is from a gentleman who is working the night shift and he is preparing to join the military. As his sleep schedule has changed so has his energy levels and desire to workout. See request for help:

Stew, HELP! I am now working the night shift and need some help with when to exercise and when to eat from my normal routine. I see my waist growing each week. I have about six months before I join the military.

Here is a great group discussion for the Military​.com reader population who have some experience with working nights either in the military or as civilians. My experience working nights during training was extensive but it helped by continuing to exercise, eat right, and sleep. Here are some tips you MUST DO to help you not only stay awake during the night shift but to have energy to work, exercise, and live half a normal life on your time off.

1. SLEEP — You have to get good at sleeping during the day. Blacken your windows and make your room dark, quiet, comfortable. You will be tired, but your sleeping patterns are thrown off by 8–12 hours so you have to be ready to sleep when you have time to sleep. Have a small snack an hour prior to sleeping like cereal, big glass of milk and avoid ANY caffeine or nicotine if you can.

2. WORKOUT — I have always found that exercise wakens me so I prefer to workout prior to going to work versus when I get off work. Take 30–45 minutes prior to your night shift start time and exercise with weights, calisthenics, cardio then shower. This will boost your metabolism, keep you more alert for a while, and click one of the the MUST DO’s off your list. You will see that it is VERY tough to get started on a workout after your shift is complete and it will also make your sleep schedule harder to keep by temporarily waking you up.

3. EAT — Make your own lunch. Bring in healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, water, juices, sandwich and other favorite foods. Often there is NOTHING good for you to eat at 2am no matter where you are. Eat a meal prior to work, have a snack 3–4 hours into your night shift, and then a light meal as your last meal prior to leaving work. You could wait until you get home for this meal.

4. HYDRATE: When in doubt drink water. Often we confuse hunger with being thirsty or dehydrated so stay hydrated and it will curb your hunger.

So in a nutshell here is how a typical night shift worked for me:

0600 — get off work — go home0700 — go to sleep after a light snack of breakfast foods and sleep until 12–1400
1400 — 1800 — personal errands etc
1800 — eat dinner
1930–2100 — workout, shower, light post workout recovery meal
2200 — start work
0100 — fruit /​ vege snack /​ caffeine if needed
0300 — hydrate — meal /​ snack
0500 — hydrate and /​ or snack on nuts /​ berries
0600 — get off work go home

This schedule may or may not work for you as there are different night shifts and hours, but you can basically see what an 8 hour shift would look like when working during your normal sleep period. Good luck with your program and KEEP TRYING TO get into a habit OR system of healthy living even though your schedule is upside down.

Any readers have suggestions? I would love to add more options for people out there struggling with this routine.

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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's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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