Dear Mark: Late Night Work Shifts

Ah, sleep. We need it, we love it, we crave it, we promise ourselves that we’ll get more of it, and yet quality sleep remains out of reach for so many of us these days. Some do it to themselves, staying up late to watch bad TV (or great TV, which is more understandable) and browse blogs (health blogs that, ironically enough, often write about the importance of sleep). There, the answer is simple: stop staying up. Resisting technology’s allure might be difficult, but at least it’s completely within your power to do so. Others have it tougher. Shift workers, for example, can’t just up and switch careers or get a new schedule after reading a blog. Since this is not the “original affluent society,” we have to work to pay for food, shelter, and other basic necessities, and we have to take what we can get.

Questions from shift workers come in quite frequently:

I am currently a firefighter/paramedic in Laredo, TX. Over a year ago, I joined G7 Athletics and began eating according to the Primal Blueprint diet. I quickly started seeing great results with my body and even lost 15 lbs. I was leaner and felt healthier. During this time I was in the Laredo Fire Academy on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.  After graduating from the academy, I began shift work and slowly started seeing weight gain. I have seen the greatest gains in my abdominal area and now weigh as much as I did before I started the Primal Blueprint diet. I work 24 hours on shift and have 48 hours off. Most times on shift, I am on the ambulance, get an average number of 12 calls throughout the day, and usually don’t get to sleep at night.

It seems to me that the only factors that have changed in my life are my sleep patterns and my work related stress levels. I would like to get back to feeling fitter and healthier. Is there any advice you can give me based on my situation? Anything would be greatly appreciated!!

Thank you!


I work nights, as well as my wife. We are on a total night schedule, sleeping from 7am to 3pm and working 6pm to 6am. We get our 7 hours and feel good, but somedays working against our circadian rhythms to keep social engagements and have a somewhat of a normal life at times works is hard. I know the best thing would be to not work nights at all. Our intention is to get off them as soon as possible, but in the mean time is there anything we can do? A supplement perhaps? Those of us in healthcare could use a little help. Any idea would be helpful.



It’s a tough situation, balancing the physiological demands of a diurnal mammal (you) with the demands of a job in direct opposition to the former. What can a shift worker do, save finding a new career path?

Embrace Your Situation

For all intents and purposes, this is your life. It may change down the road, but you are a shift worker for now. Accept it. It’s not ideal, but it will be a lot worse if you go about your days (er, nights) lamenting your situation. Even just looking in the mirror every day and verbally reminding yourself that “I am a shift worker and I’m going to get through this” will help. Fighting or avoiding the reality of a situation, instead of accepting and working with it, will only heap more stress and cortisol on your shoulders (and more fat on your belly).

Be Strict About Your Diet

Hew as closely as you can to the Primal eating plan. Don’t give in to vending machine wares and stale day-old donuts lurking in greasy pink boxes leftover from the dayshift. Get even more serious about putting quality fuel in your body than ever before. If that means cooking your own food exclusively to avoid gluten and seed oils, so be it. In your perpetually stressed state, your sensitivity to bad food will be heightened.

Train Wisely

You are starting from behind. Lifestyle stressors beset you on all sides. Your body’s abilities to recover and perform are dampened, and the last thing you want to do is add another couple heaping tablespoons of stress to the mix. As such, you must choose your workouts wisely. If it were me working night shifts for an extended period of time I’d mostly skip metabolic conditioning. No long CrossFit WODs, no extended Tabata sessions, no half marathons, nothing that spikes cortisol and leaves you breathless and on the verge of puking. Once a week sprints with full recovery? Sure. Long walks? Great. Heavy lifting? Go for it, but keep it heavy and intense and keep the volume low. If you’re doing PBF style bodyweight exercises, consider adding resistance and keeping the reps low. Two days a week of lifting is perfect; three may be too much. Keep an eye on how you feel. If you stall on the same weight twice, drop the weight or the volume. If you can’t recover in between sprints, make them shorter by ten yards until you can.

Trick Your Body

This is probably the most important strategy. Your body expects light when awake and darkness when asleep. You can’t totally replace sunlight and nighttime, but you can get pretty close. When you’re at work, keep the lights on. If you work outdoors at night – say, as a cop, a security guard, or in the military – consider light therapy. Once you’re off work, don a pair of dark/orange safety glasses before you venture out into the light and don’t remove them until you’re ready for bed. Keep your bedroom shades drawn, block out any light sources, and keep your bedroom as dark as possible. The trick is to mimic daytime light conditions during your waking hours and nighttime light conditions during your “evening” and sleeping hours to the best of your ability.

Supplement Smartly

Supplements can help fill in the gaps between the reality of our modern lifestyles (stuck in the office all day with limited exposure to sun, poor and inadequate sleep, regular dietary compromises, sucking down smog to and from work, etc.) and an imaginary ideal lifestyle (just the right amount of sun time and shuteye, perfect Primal food at every meal, limited exposure to environmental toxins, etc.). So, what are some supplements to consider for a late night shift worker? Well, make sure you cover the basics (omega-3s, vitamin D, various minerals, etc). These are nutrients that everyone needs, but you have less room for error so make sure you supplement if you’re not able to obtain what you need through food.

Also, melatonin has been shown to improve shift workers’ sleep and wakefulness patterns. In one study, compared to placebo and no treatment at all, 5 mg melatonin taken at “desired bedtime” improved the sleep and alertness of cops working a night shift. They got better sleep when they wanted it and felt more alert at night while on the beat. A later study had similar findings. Increasing dosages of melatonin (up to 3 mg) in patients undergoing simulated late shift work was actually able to shift their circadian phases (as evidenced by changes in body temperature and melatonin secretion). Sleep and alertness (at the right times) also improved. They took fewer naps. Note that 0.5 mg was not as effective as 3 mg. Take at least 3 mg melatonin at your desired bedtime, and be consistent with it.

Avoid Coffee and Embrace Black Tea

Give up coffee, especially if you display the hallmarks of cortisol problems: belly fat accumulation and poor performance in the gym. Or, at least cut way back. Consider going for black tea instead, which has been shown to normalize cortisol. If you keep drinking coffee (let’s face it, it’s delicious), try not to rely on it. Have a cup at the start of your shift – since it’s “morning” for you – but no more.

Ultimately, what the human animal does best is adapt, often to some pretty horrible conditions. Consider how many people go about their days without apparent problems and live long lives eating the modern processed diet. Consider the amount of unimaginable cruelty, war, genocide, and famine occurring today and throughout all history, and still people live on. So you can handle shift work. Maybe not for the rest of your life, maybe not for ten years without serious ramifications to your health and quality of life, but you can handle shift work now and in the near future. Just don’t get complacent. Start, today, working toward the goal of getting off shift work, because no amount of supplementation, smart training, diet perfection, and artificial light trickery will make up for a lifestyle that contradicts your basic physiology.

Any shift workers in here? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t? Let us know in the comment section!
TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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64 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Late Night Work Shifts”

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  1. This is perfect timing on this post for me. I work nights on 12 hour shifts. I always wonder what damage I am doing to myself. It can be very difficult to do “normal people” stuff. Yesterday we had plans to take our kids out with some of their friends and I had just got off work, so I just never went to sleep. I guess it was around 32 hours or so that I was awake. I’m pretty good about everything, except the giving up coffee part. I don’t think I could ever do that. I enjoy my coffee too much.

    1. Coffee is a gallbladder stimulator, and causes it to squeeze, so coffee drinkers have fewer gallstones, so THAT’s a blessing. It would probably be most beneficial for coffee drinking to happen around meals so bile is expelled for fat emulsification (and improvement of digestion).

  2. Beautiful. Thank you, Mark, for discussing such a distressing situation with such grace and positivity…

    I’m a total night-owl myself (the lure of computer with TV in the background — heaven-on-earth for me!) and I’m trying to ameliorate that lifestyle, without much motivation. My husband has taken to rousing me at 6:30 {whinewhinewhine} and we get in our walk as the sun comes up, here in the horrid South where the humidity spurs asthma-like breathing outdoors. (I’ve told him I know I’m going to heaven when I die, cause I’m living in HELL now!) (Kept-wife, so I can go back to bed when we get home — or I nap mid-afternoon — to fill in; I’m trying to quit the napping to force myself to bed earlier, which is *not* working. {yawn} I’m usually half-comatose at the computer around 4 p.m., and then get a second wind around 9 and go on till 1.)

    (Oddly, no asthma during water aerobics at the Y, so maybe it’s pollen and not humidity? I hate the humidity with all my being! A couple months ago, I started Body-by-Science lifting and am LOVING it! Actually look forward to Mondays and lifting!)

    My question is this — since I (truly do) suffer so from the heat and humidity (not just whining, I truly feel BAD being outdoors in the summer here), is that a stressor — is my dread (but willingness to walk) likely pushing cortisol? I was total Nature-Girl when I lived out in WA, and spent hours-and-hours outdoors there. Here is just so uncomfortable that I even avoid going out to the mail box! (I’m definitely a Norse-woman, not a tropical-gal!) (I have an elliptical at (air-conditioned) home, but no longer use it.)

    Ideas? Advice? House for sale out West?

    1. I would guess it is pollen and not humidity that is making it hard for you to breathe; I am constantly stuffy and I live in Tucson, where the pollen load is off the charts and humidity is near zero most of the year. In contrast when I visit family in Hawaii, where it is humid but I don’t seem to have bad allergies, my passages clear right up. I notice tis as a pretty consistent pattern wherever I go. The drier the air, the harder a time I have breathing. YMMV of course.

      1. Check out info on pitta dosha and ayurvedic herbs. People who are strongly pitta (or part pitta, you can have combined doshas) can feel terrible in high heat/humidity. There are a lot of good herbs to balance pitta and you can also try some elements of a pitta-pacifying diet.

  3. I am not a shift worker, but I have to second the advice to try black tea instead of coffee. I had no idea that it actually normalized cortisol levels, but for me it has always been a great de-stressor (even though it has caffeine).

    And even though I’m not a shift worker I do have a later than normal workday (getting in at 10, leaving around 7). I’ve made a couple of adjustments so that my workday fits in with the way I like to keep my schedule. I like to get up early (6-7) and that means I need to go to sleep early (by 11-1130). So I try to eat as soon as I get home from work and then not eat anything else that night (so I don’t go to bed full) – it seems to help me sleep, wake earlier, and keep me more “regular” if you know what I mean.

    1. I second the suggestion of finishing your last bites of food well before your bedtime. I sleep like a baby but sometimes wake up earlier than I want to. This is because I have to pee so bad. I have recently been eating later meals. I don’t drink much but food does have a lot of water.

      If I finish about 3 or more hours before bed then I am less likely to wake up too early. I usually wake up between 6 and 7 but I wouldn’t mind a few more minutes of sleep.

      I could be waking up because it is time as I am full of energy throughout the day but I do have to pee pretty badly so I would think that is the main reason.

      1. I wake up in the morning having to pee as well! I drink a lot of water though; that is my own fault.

        1. Me too! I feel SUPER dehydrated for a whole day after working nights, even if I drink a ton of water all night!

  4. I worked overnight (10pm to 6:30am) for two years. I was pretty obsessive about keeping my body on a regular schedule of sleep (7am to 2:30 or 3:00pm). When I got up, I would often take a walk to get some sun exposure. My bedroom window was blacked out with a heavy piece of cloth. I only broke from this schedule every couple of months, and it had to be an important event or something family-related. The worst time was winter when I wouldn’t see much sunshine for days on end.

    I made real meals to take work work for my lunches. It wasn’t Primal, but a sandwich, carrot sticks, and an apple was far superior to the super-sugary fare many of my co-workers ate daily (candy, doughnuts, cupcakes, soda). I’ve always been a fan of tea, so it’s nice to know that the black tea I drank daily was doing me some good.

    I certainly can’t say that I felt great. I was often tired, but I didn’t suffer from nearly as many illnesses or colds as most of my co-workers. I could get through my shift with only my mug of black tea at the beginning (important so I could sleep afterwards). I’m glad to be done with that kind of work, but at least I did the best I could when I didn’t have much of a choice.

    1. I agree with Beowolf that keeping a regular sleep schedule, even on your days off, is critical to surviving night shift! And getting daylight whenever you can. I also had blackout curtains and slept like a baby most days.

    2. I used to do 10 till 6 all the time and found stayng ‘up’ till midday or 1pm ish then sleeping suited me best.I got the daylight in winter too,and it was like a normal evening then bed.You never have a social life though.
      I did have more meals but seemed to work it off ok with work.

  5. I HATE late shifts/night shifts with a passion, I get extremely stressed out and my enjoyment of life really drops through the floor. In the end my last job I just had to quit because I was going mad. Never want to be in that position again.

  6. Perfect timing! I’m a rotating shift worker – by the time I “adjust” to a shift, the week is over and I move to the next one. Night shifts start tomorrow night. Despite eating primal and trying to get as much practical exercise as possible, I’m not seeing the great results others are. I’ll have to try some of these tricks here (like the orange glasses for driving home after a night shift) and the melatonin.

    1. That sounds like hell (and a recipe for constantly sick employees). What kind of job makes you do that?

      1. Believe it or not, Harvard makes its plant employees work rotating shifts, despite all their published research showing how damaging it is to health. Awesome.

      2. They make cops do that on 2-week rotations sometimes, even though it kills their health and we all have to pay for it. Lame. They should at least let them have 8 weeks on a shift before rotating again. They could rotate them on beats if they think there’s an issue with having the same cop in the same nabe all the time.

  7. I don’t work night shifts, I just love staying up late. I haven’t really noticed any difference in my body from not getting enough sleep some nights.

    Maybe it will catch up to me eventually but I sure hope not! 🙂

  8. This is all true and I’ve been doing it for years when I work graves. The only difference is the change to the PB diet this last year. I’m a cop and when I work graves, I try and stay on the same sleep schedule on my nights off. This helps me establish a steady sleep pattern that is consistent. Some of my co-workers try and go to a ‘normal’ sleep schedule, and when they come back to graves on their ‘Monday’ they’re zombies. Nutrition, exercise and sleep, it combats stress nicely. The melatonin is a must as well. Studies find that it’s an important anti-oxident. So if you work nights, pop that melatonin before you crawl into bed.

  9. Oh, thank you for this post. I’m not Primal, but I’ve been trying to read a lot about it to see if that’s the direction I want to head. I think it would be extremely beneficial for my hubby who has Type I diabetes.

    The Hubby works 3-4 nights a week, 12 hour nights. He is constantly up and moving at work. He’s taken a pedometer and he averages 12 miles a night.

    We have a young family (3 and 1), so on his days off he transitions to a day shift to spend time with them and help me out.

    All of this stress and cycling is sending his blood glucose crazy. We’ve talked to his doctor about it and he blames the cortisol, it screws with insulin utilization. Since he’s doing nights primarily so he can finish college we’re stuck with this schedule until Winter ’12.

    So we’re going to try the melatonin trick, it sounds great. Oh, BTW Mark, you have a typo in that paragraph, you forgot a decimal. You have it typed at 5 mg.

    Other than that all I can see is sucking it up and letting The Hubby stay on a night schedule all the time and go crazy with the kids. *sigh* Any advice?

    1. I take 4mgs a night, no decimal. I think he meant 5mg, but not sure. The pills I take are 2mgs each and the bottle says I can take up to 5 pills a day (or night).

      1. I reread the paragraph and I think you’re right. I think the .5-3mg range is from one study. Sorry, I don’t have time right now to go read the studies themselves.

  10. Great post, Mark.

    I’m not a shift worker, but I become hypersensitive to light in the winter. I totally agree with your recommendations to use light therapy to reset your body clock, keep your bedroom as dark as possible — even if it means wearing a sleep mask (I do, in the winter) — and wearing dark glasses to avoid excess light stimulation.

    I feel for shift workers. Shift work has been identified in the Harvard Nurses Study as a cause in increasing the incidence of several conditions, cancer among them. Bravo to those of you working hard to keep healthy sleep, meal and exercise schedules.

    As you’ve said, our bodies NEED darkness.

  11. Thank you for addressing this Mark. I am working a twilight shift until December (6pm to 2am). I found that keeping a regular sleeping schedule helped even when not working these hours. Unfortunately family do not always understand why I sleep in till 10am even if I didn’t work the night before but I have to educate them. I have sympathy for those on rotating shifts because it took me a good couple of weeks to settle in to my new routine.

    I quite like it now as I am not a morning person so I get to roll out of bed, make my breakfast and hang around a bit before starting my day. I am also able to get more sunlight which is a big bonus for me. Also I don’t sit in traffic jams for hours on end so less stress there as well. I drive home with the radio blasting out on an empty motorway at 2am! Fab!

    There are positives and negatives, especially if your shift hours are not too extreme. I do notice though, that colleagues who don’t look after themselves (i.e. don’t get enough sleep) get sick quite often.

    1. I work 2nd shift (2:45 – 11:15) and I love it too! No traffic!!! I also sleep until I wake up naturally everyday and have time to get plenty of sunshine before going to work.

  12. Great post. My mom has been a nurse for over 35 years. I’ve seen the effect of shift work firsthand, and no thank you! I don’t know how she or anyone else working shift manages to keep sane for so long. Kudos!

  13. Exactly how important – if at all – is it for the body to sleep when it’s dark and be awake when it’s light, if you otherwise get enough sleep and keep a fairly regular sleep schedule?

    For the last couple of years I’ve usually gone to bed between 5 and 7 am, and getting up 7-8 hours later (rarely to the tune of an alarm clock, just when I wake up feeling rested).
    The season doesn’t matter – although during Winter when the sun sets in the afternoon, I do make sure to get at least a couple of hours of daylight.

    I rarely feel tired or negatively affected by my sleep patterns, except for relatively rare nights where I don’t sleep well for one reason or another (I’ve got ADHD and Tourette Syndrome to screw a little with my resting capabilities now and then, but usually it only affects how long it takes me to fall asleep – typically 20-30 minutes).

    Occasionally I’ll try to “turn the day around”, so I go to bed no later than Midnight, but I immediately start slipping so it’s barely more than a few days before I’m back to going to bed in the early morning, which feels far more natural to me than late at night.

  14. Yay!! Shift work and sleep problems have been a huge concern in my Graveyard life. Most of the research I have done doesn’t give practical solutions and only recommend quitting shift work. Since I love my rewarding career and think that contributes to my health and well being also it’s nice to finally see some options. Thanks!!

  15. Very helpful post — thank you, Mark. My husband and I are not shift workers but due to a difficult commute and demanding jobs we typically get up at 5:15am every day, leaving the house by 6:30 so that my husband can be at his desk by 7:00 and so that I can catch my train to my job, arriving at 8:15. Reverse at night, getting home (depending on trains and traffic) at about 7:15. By the time we’ve made dinner and relaxed/visited with each other a bit, cleaned up kitchen, etc, lo and behold it is 10:00pm. Neither one of us falls to sleep particularly easily so it is typically 11ish by the time we really fall asleep. So chronic albeit mild sleep deprivation is more or less our lives. I have been concerned about this aspect of our lives and its impact on our health so am delighted to read the suggestions. One thing, however: any alternatives for those of us who are not in the US in respect of melatonin? It is (rather stupidly) banned in Europe and Canada. I’m an American but long time resident in England — I always try to buy some when I get to the States but if it is noticed it will be confiscated at customs so I can never bring in too much. Anyone’s tips for substitutes or other supplements that might have similar systemic effects to melatonin would be very welcome!

    1. Have you tried tryptophan? It’s a precursor of melatonin so supposedly gets metabolised into melatonin once ingested. Also taurine – my understanding is that this is a melatonin agonist, ie it enhances uptake of your own melatonin and thus enhances sleep. Both available in the UK.

    2. Hey Karen,

      I live in the Netherlands and over here melatonin is not banned. The only ‘problem’ is you can only get tablets with more then 1.0mg in them if you have a doctors prescription. You can still buy the 1.0mg stuff over the counter everywhere. Maybe you could have some send over across the channel 😉

  16. I’m really glad that this has come up, since I am just beginning my primal journey, and work swing shifts. My shifts are 12 hours long, and I’m fairly lucky, I guess, in that I only do two night shifts every 8 days.

    In my reading so far, I’ve seen plenty of mention of getting the requisite amount of sleep, and so the shift work thing was an early conundrum for me and I have given it some thought. I’ve even mentioned it in a couple of my blog posts over the last day or two.

    Given how I’ve resolved this quandary for myself, I’m somewhat surprised that in the original article, and subsequent comments that there is no mention of our old friend Grok.

    I decided that there surely must have been times that Grok would have to take his turn to tend the campfire through the night, keep watch for nighttime predators and enemies, and participate in nocturnal hunts. Maybe he just simply stayed up to tend to an ailing band mate?

    For the most part I enjoy my work, I enjoy the flexibility my schedule provides and I enjoy the additional financial reward that comes from working unpopular hours. I do find that it impacts on my social life a little, however I treat my sleep schedule as importantly as my work schedule. If someone wants to have a Saturday brunch, they would understand if I skipped because I had to be at work, well they can understand if I have to sleep, because I have been at work.

    If they don’t understand, and push the issue, I’ll be like “OK I finish work at 8am, I’ll see you at 11am, then tomorrow I’ll come around to your place for breakfast between 3 and 4 am. What do you mean you’ll be sleeping? I’ll likely be wide awake, I’ll call first and then honk in the driveway.” Sometime things just need to be explained simply 🙂

    1. Very good explanation! I have guys who work for me who work 12 noon to 12 mid, and I occasionally have to explain to coworkers why they aren’t in at 8 am in the morning. “Because they are sleeping!”

  17. I’ve had to do shift work as a nurse and now as a doctor.

    I always take melatonin when on night shifts and then to reset my sleep patterns when changing shifts. I like a few other herbs for coping with night shifts and shift changes.
    Kava kava will act as melatonin catalyst (helps your endogenous melatonin work better, also good for stress and anxiety)
    chaste tree (can help increase your own production of melatonin)
    rhodiola rosea (helps stablise cortisol levels)
    I think its particularly important to maintain good vitamin D levels when you can’t spend much time daylight.

    Also with changing shifts, it is best to only eat light snacks during the night- larger meals will make it hard to switch your body clock back.

    In Australia, melatonin is not commercially available but it is legal to import personal quantities (which I buy over the internet). For some reason it is available on prescription as I am aware that pediatricians prescribe it for children with sleep disorders.

  18. As a firefighter I work 24 on 24 off for seven shifts then get a shift off. I have been doing this for 4 years. In april I started Primal Blueprint and I discovered a few things. Adhering to the proper eating habits is a must, no matter what. Get as much rest as you can. It isn’t uncommon for me to take naps on my day off. Quality exercise is a must. I workout 2 to 3 times a week either doing Crossfit or Primal, keep them short and as intense as possible. I have found that anything over 20 minutes makes recovery longer. I have started biking to work which is 6.5 miles one way. I go at a casual pace and it takes me about 40 minutes. Stay as active as possible that will help with joints, and finally quality supplements. I use a multi-vitamin, Fish oil, Osteo Biflex, Protein powder with Creatine after workouts (this really helps with my recovery) and as a snack or meal replacement when short on time.

    Finally, don’t give up. You will find that if you track your meals and exercises you can fine tune what works and what doesn’t work. You will return to your previous energy levels it will just take a little time for your body to adjust.

  19. I’ve stayed up 36 hours, twice a week for 3 years (I work 2 night shifts a week, and then have my kids the next day- I do this to keep them out of daycare). The first year was doable, since then it is pure torture. Our house has been on the market for a year (if it sells, I can quit). I’m planning on renting it out in about a month, then hopefully be done with this by fall. I can truly feel it killing me slowly. I can’t wait until I can sleep like a normal person again. Primal has helped (been doing it 6 months) but still have way too much stress, depression, belly fat. I know it’s from not sleeping. – Crossing my fingers I can quit soon!

  20. In my early 20s I worked third shift. I simply explained to people my day started 8 hours earlier than theirs. Slept roughly 2-10pm, worked 11-7am, hung out for an hour or so then after-work drinks – had to wait for the bar to legally open at 8am! I loved having daytime to do things everyone else has to fit into their weekends.

    Now I simply work part-time evening and weekends, jealously guarding my weekday freedom when most other people are locked up in their cubicles. Nice to hike without crowds!

    1. It was like that for me when I worked 11 PM – 7 AM when young too. I had mornings for shopping, errands, appointments – no crowds and short wait times for doctor appointments and such. In bed by noon, up by 8 or 9, have dinner, then to work with a packed lunch, then breakfast after work. I was a night owl, so loved that schedule and the convenience I had of being free every morning when everyone else was stuck at work.

      It wouldn’t have worked as well later in life, with college and career, then having a kid and her school commitments, and later marrying a morning person who is disgustingly chipper before noon. But before I had those commitments, I loved night shift.

  21. Is it really that stressful to work on night shifts? I know there are studies that show health problems in night workers, but I wonder what other variables are involved.

    For me, working a regular 9-5 shift in an urban area was really stressful: no time for myself in the morning, crowded rush hour commute on the subway, feeling cranky and uncomfortable by all the bustle and cheeriness of the morning-loving worker bees.

    Switching to working on a night shift was idyllic for me: quieter, workers more settled, less noise and distraction, and naturally just like staying up late — night owl since I was a kid.

    I didn’t have trouble sleeping during the day, in some ways I prefer it!

    Felt aberrant enough anyway as a confirmed night-worker — so resisting the idea that in addition to the contrary cycle that it’s also some kind of health hazard.

    Skullcap is a great herb for settling down to sleep, it’s a nervine and doesn’t leave you groggy — tea or extract both work.

    1. Well, I suppose it depends on the job. But most healthcare workers have very stressful jobs on top of being awake all night. Does a serious number on a person.

      I don’t doubt that working nights could be okay for some, but it’s certainly not very good for most.

    2. Hi. I work noon to 1-2am as an RN in an ED and I tell you, on most days I do not stop moving. I rarely get a brake, I “inhale” my food at the nurses station, I rarely pee. By the time I get home at 0130am I’m so wired that I can’t sleep. I think of all the CPRs, meds, sick sick people I had that sleep is the last thing on my brain’s mind. I force myself to drink 1-2 glasses of red wine to slow the processor in my brain and then usually I feel little tired and try to go to sleep. On most morning I do not fall asleep until about 3am. Waking up around 9-10 am feeling exhausted and foggy. This pattern remains even on days when I don’t work so on school days I do not see the kids. I do not like it, I gained about 15lb working first night and now mid shift and I completely agree with Mark and the pink box of stale donuts…yup it’s at the brake room every single Friday. Night/mid shift jobs are a challenge for sure.

  22. This article, as usual, comes at a timely moment…. I am always trying to figure out how to exercise when I feel exhausted; I work from 7-4 and have an hour commute each way, and sometimes subsist on 6 hours of sleep a night, which means I don’t have a ton of energy for intense exercise. I do walk every day (force myself to) but sometimes I only get in one or two heavy lifting work outs a week and haven’t done a sprint in months. The one thing I consistently do that helps a ton is to eat Primally; it gives me the energy and stamina I need to get through the day.

    I live for the day when I can spend all day hiking and/or napping!

  23. Unfortunately, shift work just sucks. I’m always amazed at how normal my husband is again when we go on vacation. By day 3, I’m like, “Oh yeah, there’s that guy I remember.” I also think it’s part of any partner’s or family’s responsibility to support shift workers and keep in mind how truly abnormal they are most of the time. And it’s important for the shift workers to remember not to take it out on everyone else. My husband has a “No serious discussions, no major decisions” rule when he’s recovering.

    He recently had an intense string of shifts and gained a few pounds, just like one of the questioners. I have no doubt shift work is terrible for the body, and unfortunately, despite Primal’s best efforts, I think the only cure is to not do it anymore. Too bad that’s not an option for us.

  24. Great article on shiftwork !!
    If you were a shiftworker & you had 2 choices which would you lean more towards A or B ??
    A= do a mixture of shiftwork eg 3 shifts per week from 3pm-11pm + 2normal day shifts 9-5 & WALKING 2-3 hours EVERY shift.
    B= Day shift only & no physical movement at all just stuck behind a desk.
    Which would you personally pick A where you are getting exercise 2-3 hours a day and occasionally working till 11pm OR normal office hours with no movement at work —you have to go home & exercise ?????

    1. I’ve done both and A was definitely easier, but to be fair 3-11pm is not too bad a shift pattern. Didn’t do quite that much walking though.

      I like 3-11pm. It’s not too disruptive but you still get the day to have fun. However your family don’t see so much of you which can become a problem. I know a couple of marriages that didn’t cope – hard to say if the that was the cause but it certainly didn’t help. Avoiding commute time is a biggie for me.

  25. Was working a second shift(4:30pm to 3am) and went to 3rd (10pm to 7 am)gained 12 pounds even though I was eating less, went back to 2nd lost 12lbs. Starting 1st shift NEXT WEEK WE’LL SEE WHAT HAPPENS WEIGHT LOSS I’M SURE!

  26. Too late for me and my brother.

    We’ve both worked shifts for 25-30 years – my job was sedentary but my brother was an airplane mechanic, plus he biked to work, so he got plenty of exercise.

    We both ended up getting diabetes 2, so the only thing we have in common (aside from genes) is working shifts and getting lousy sleep.

    We didn’t realize we were at risk because neither of us are obese and nobody else in our family has diabetes.

    I wonder if someone checked if there’s a higher percentage of diabetes 2 among shift workers?

    We’re both out of shifts now and enjoying our sleep. D2 – not so much.

  27. I have worked as a paper carrier since 1993. Work starts at 2 a.m. and should be done 6 a.m.

    When I started I was slightly overweight and pretty healthy. During the years doing this I have gained over 20 kg, gotten high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. I have a very hard time losing weight (and do eat pretty healthily, mostly paleo or primal during the last four years – got better in some other ways but no real weight loss), I’m depressed half of the time, I have no natural sleep patterns anymore, sometimes I’m sleepy in the morning, sometimes during the day and sometimes in the evening, about the only time I don’t feel sleepy are during the normal work hours, whether I’m working or not. And no, I probably can’t get out of this job anymore, I haven’t done much else and I’m over fifty, and at this age even well educated people with lots of varied work experience have a hard time finding a new job in my country.

    I would definitely not recommend this type of jobs to anybody. There are a few good points, especially if you happen to be a bit antisocial. You work alone, the pay is decent considering the work hours (at least in my country) and a lot of people doing this have kids and part of the reason they are working this job is because this way they can be home during the daytime. But since the work schedule, for many, saps your energy it’s easy to get stuck with this – you plan to do it for a few years while you study during the days, or whatever, in the end you realize you have been doing this for too long (I got stuck with this during the 90’s recession, jobs were scarce and hard to get – and once the situation got better I was getting too old to be seen as viable employee material, especially since I had not managed to get my degree in a decent time).

    During the last couple of years I have managed to find a few things which seem to work, to some extent. Big doses of vitamin D and fish oil, melatonin in the morning after work so I can get some sleep during the early part of the day, another dose in the evening and a longer sleep before going to work. Darkened bedroom during summer. Making sure I’m eating well, and avoiding all fast carbs, especially sugar. I also use light therapy during the winter, I live above the 60th latitude so there is too much sun during the summers, for a few months we have no real night, just a longish twilight – and the reverse around Christmas. But while these things help, they still don’t remove the problems.

    It would probably be best if I could sleep most what I need to sleep before going to work, but since I’d prefer to keep at least some social life I usually stay awake during the evenings. So I sleep between four and six hours after work, and between two and four hours before work.

    Well, if can manage to stay healthy enough to work I need to survive this for a bit over a decade before reaching retirement age. I just hope I will still be healthy enough to enjoy that retirement if I get that far.

  28. Earplugs are another good tool for those trying to sleep during the day. I call it ‘threshold of arousal’; wherein some quantity of light will need a smaller quantity of sound to ‘add up’ to the amount of stimulation to wake you. I’ve been doing rotating shifts 6P to 6A, four on, four off, for twenty years. Wwe rotate back to days, 6A to 6P every 28 days. Yep, lunar calendar for those paying attention.

    Staying up until midnight on the first night off helps carry me through the ‘wake up at 3am wide awake’ business most of the time. For the other times I take melatonin and read. I can typically get back to getting up at 8AM in three days. If you’re struggling, don’t fight your biorythem too hard; Nap if neccesary, but understand it will delay your getting back to a regular schedule.

    Since going primal it seems that light and sound bother me less. I can sleep with the curtain open and no earplugs. When I’m tired, I sleep, period.

    I do get about eight hours of forest, stream and hill hiking in a week.

    1. Agree completely about the ear plugs. I find they really improve the depth of my sleep, even though I live in a fairly quiet area. Those darned birds tweeting outside my window while I’m trying to get my zzzzz are very loud.

  29. I’m a 6p-6a night shift nurse. I love working nights. Sleep must be made a priority during the day. I get 7/8 hours of good quality sleep. I started PB in May and have lost 23 pounds.I take quality PB brown bag lunches and snacks.I get exercise by walking the floors and doing squats, push-ups..etc when I can. My stress is gone and I love the relaxed atmosphere at night. I don’t plan on changing to day shift for a long time.

  30. Well I have worked “swing shifts” for 12 years now. When I started I was 25 years old. I loved it at first. Now I am 37 with two kids later. I HATE IT. I am ALWAYS tired! I have gained about 50 LBs because I can’t have a consistent eating,work out, or sleep schedule. I think it has also caused some depression. I am currently trying to switch to a straight daylight position.

  31. This is perfect timing for my life. I just had a farewell party after 20 years in my current position. On ‘day’s but my actual work (salaried) would often be 10-12 hours, getting calls even though technically not on call (I didn’t mind) and a very stressful position in healthcare. My DH and I are moving across the country and I’m going to be working night shift 7-on, 7-off. Will definitely be implementing several tips. Already have ear plugs bought, black-out curtains for bedroom, and melatonin.

    I worked a regular night shift several years back but had young children so it should be easier this time around. Cannot be any more stressful than my current position.

    Thanks, Mark! The switch to Primal and feeling so much better was instrumental in getting these comfortable old fuddy-duddies to re-evaluate life and decide to live it by moving across the country and spend the next years exploring together instead of waiting to ‘retire’. 52 and just getting started, baby!!!

  32. I have trouble sleeping due to my ADD medication but I have found that being active all day and working out 4-6 hours before I go to bed really helps me get a good nights rest.

  33. I worked nights for many years and my friends who also did we’re a lot more tired than I was. What did they so differently than me? They went to bed when they got home. What did I do? I finished at 7am, went home, had supper, cleaned up, watched tv until around noon or 1pm then went to bed until 8 or 9pm. Then got up and went to work for 11pm.

    A day shift worker doesn’t go to bed as soon as they get home, so why should a night shift worker? I kept telling my friends to do what I did but they always said they couldn’t make it that far. But they always woke up earlier an would be up for several hours before work. Then they would be exhausted throughout their shift. I was tired but not exhausted because of the routine I kept.

    Luckily I no longer need to work nights. 🙂

  34. Your current article has verified useful to me. It’s extremely useful and you are obviously very experienced of this type.
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  35. One day in a half-awake stupor while on a mids shift I looked up how to use melatonin. (I had used it only once and it messed up my rythem and so I didn’t touch it again for years.) I saw Dr. Oz talk about using .5 to 1 mg about 1 to 1.5 hours before you want to go to bed. It worked wonderfully. I got 8 hours of uniterrupted sleep (thought maybe not that deep) for the first time in many moons. Hope it helps!

  36. I work all three shifts and they vary all the time. I believe you need to eat enough and eat healthy to stay healthy. I am at a desk so I can read or do other activities so as not to get too bored.

  37. I realise this is late comment to add but please could you include an artcile for shift workers that frequently chnage ngihts/days. I’m a surgeon and my job is very intense; I have no room for error and I’m exhausted and low in mood when I’m on night shifts. I’ve had black outs/light therapy/melatonin. Please can you suggest more?

  38. Thank you for not saying “you need to change jobs” Yes, I’ve actually heard that! I LOVE my night shift work. I’m a pediatric home health nurse, so my job isn’t stressful as I’m there to relieve the parents so they can sleep and my client sleeps very well. We already have the light-blocking curtains in our bedroom so I just need to try the melatonin. I find I have trouble falling asleep, but once I am, I sleep pretty well. Good to know I don’t have to ‘expect’ failure just because my sleep schedule is upside down. Great thread!