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Any Night-Shift Divas?


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I was asked to change my shift schedule from days to overnights, and I am VERY excited about how much skiing time that opens up. I'll work two 24-hour shifts a week (instead of four 12s), and in the evening we do get to sleep if there are no calls, but it can also be non-stop, depending on the night.

I've never worked a night shift before; do any divas have advice for life-management on this sort of schedule?

I'm pretty low-maintenance in general, past menstruation age (good riddance), and looking forward to the new schedule, as four twelves was a grind. My co-workers are all good people, and I get along well with my soon-to-be shift crew; I don't have concerns about male-female awkwardness or impropriety; I'll have a private bunkroom. I can't wear a sports bra for 24 hours, that's for sure, but I can get away with a compression camisole at night, or just undo the band of the bra when sleeping/resting, I think.

The expectation is that we go from sleep to pulling out of the bay within three minutes at night (one minute during the day) so I'd be sleeping in my uniform minus the boots.

I'm just wondering if anyone has any tips for staying alert, managing sleep, and staying healthy in general with overnight shift work.



Ski Diva Extraordinaire
I worked 4 days on, 4 days off for a couple of years doing IT support for a government project - it was two 12 hour days then two 12 hour nights. I found it really hard but that was due in part to us not being at all busy during the nights; we weren't supposed to sleep while on shift so the nights were loooonnnngggg. Also my husband worked normal office hours so the 4 on/4 off meant we didn't get that many weekends in common.

To avoid just hijacking this into a misery-fest of what drove me nuts about the working pattern, a few things that did work for me were:
- avoiding carbs and eating more protein at night; someone recommended this to me so I ate lots of nuts which did seem to help a bit.
- I'd get really cold around 2am - I don't think you'll have this problem if you're either busy or sleeping but I had a couple of extra layers with me when I worked nights.
- sleeping for a couple of hours and then getting up on the day after the last night shift; I'd usually do housework or go to the gym, something to keep myself moving. Similar to how to get over jetlag, bit of a kip so you're not a zombie, and then aim to go to bed at your normal time.
- exercise - I had lots of time to myself so got into training for a half-marathon. Having a local ski hill would've been infinitely preferable though. :smile:


Angel Diva
The research shows that it’s swing shift, with work moving from night to day and back again, that’s the hardest on the body and especially the mind. Watch your driving when tired!

I don’t have any experience personally, but after listening to clients with shift work I’d recommend keeping track of, and being sure to get, enough sleep.

I read recently that before electricity was available humans typically slept 9-10 hours a night!


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
My friend's specific self-prohibitions are "fire, decisions, and sharp things".

Uh-oh. I work for a fire department as an EMT, so fire, driving, and working with sharp stuff is pretty much 90% of what we do!

We do, though, get to sleep in the evenings when not on a call.

@newboots I know an EMT/ER tech who just left a big local hospital because his schedule kept switching erratically between days and nights to the point where it started impacting his health. Luckily our schedule has a regular rotation, with a mandatory minimum of time between shifts.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Seems like there is maybe greater interest so will post here versus pm.

Can’t find the few diagrams that outline sleep/naps/food/caffeine for transition days day to night and night to day. Looked through 4 cds but there are a few more I will look through.

Circadian rhythm in isolation of environmental factors ~ 25 hrs.
Sun rise largest time setter of body’s 24 hour physiology

Mid morning ~ 10 am and mid afternoon ~ 2-3 pm natural dips in circadian cycle. Can take advantage of these drops in alertness to plan daytime sleep periods.

Between one and four am (some experts 12-6 am or 2-6 am) lowest time in daily circadian rhythm. Generally highest time of incidents/accidents. (This is why you feel cold at this time of night.)

If trying to sleep in morning post shift if at all possible avoid seeing the sunrise. (might not be possible with schedule/commute)

Other time setters like meals and caffeine are more easily manipulated

Daytime sleep environment —

Quiet room — put phone on do not disturb etc.

Dark room — aluminum foil on windows good cheap solution for temp shifts in schedules

Cool room — rising temperatures signal wakefulness, falling body temperatures signal tiredness

If unable to sleep after 20-30 min of attempt get up out of bed. Readdress sleeping when feeling sleepy again. Staying in bed when unable to sleep trains brain to have longer sleep latency (time laying in bed before actually falling asleep) period = counter to the goal

Create sleep routine, do same things in the same order before laying down for a rest each time. This can include same music, toothbrushing, whatever just creating a pattern for your brain to know it’s time to move into rest mode.

Strategic napping (nap=any amount of sleep less than a std night)

Sleep physiology basics (stuff to know when applying strategic naps)

4 stages of NREM sleep then REM sleep in “std 8 hour” sleep most NREM is in first 4 hours most REM in second half.

NREM = physical/muscular recovery
REM = mental/cognitive recovery

NREM sleep has four stages one, two, three, four. Waking up from a nap in NREM stage three or four will lead to sleep inertia = groggy can’t wake up feeling. To minimize grogginess after operational naps keep them 40 minutes or less, or at two hour intervals I.e two hours, four hours, six hours. If exceptionally fatigued nap shorter than 40 min as you drop from stage one into into stage 3 and 4 more quickly.

One alcoholic beverage suppresses REM sleep for approximately 2 to 3 hours so limit alcohol to promote cognitive recovery

Exercise raises core temperature will counter drop in temperature that induces tiredness. Exercise should be completed 45 minutes or more before attempting sleep.

Sleep loss is cumulative and creates sleep debt. If sleeping additional hours beyond a standard sleep cycle during non-duty times can divide extra time sleep by number of days of preceding duty to approximate actual physiological sleep needs, will vary by individual. Goal is to provide shift work sleep schedule equal to personal physiological need.

Caffeine use

Caffeine shows actual, not just perceived, performance gains in reaction time and cognitive processing tasks.

Caffeine has an addiction level daily of approximately 250 mg intake ~ 5 ounces strong dark coffee. Use above this level requires ongoing use to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeine has a 45 minute period from ingestion until effectiveness and has a four hour half-life in the body.

To use caffeine with a short nap use caffeine first then sleep approximately 40 minutes or less.

Do not use caffeine for 4 to 6 hours before attempting sleep.

Use caffeine when drowsy, not when already alert. Increased use of caffeine does produce physiological adjustment/decrease in impact of stimulant—goal is use only when necessary to maintain maximum impact.

Simple Carbohydrates are most quickly digested. Create blood sugar spike and then drop which induces drowsiness. Post carbohydrate drop can be used in conjunction with other sleep tools to initiate daytime naps.

Proteins and fats mostly digested. Provide better steady state energy maintenance.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Switching schedules is definitely much harder physiologically than staying on nights or days.

From memory as I cannot find the chart right now on your from days to nights switch:
Wake up early - few hours before normal. No caffeine, light breakfast.
As mid morning dip in circadian rhythm approaches eat carbohydrates and prepare to rest. Sleep from mid morning for as many hours as possible. Awake. Use caffeine. Eat protein, exercise. Report for duty. Continue to use caffeine and strategic naps/exercise as permitted through shift.


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Post night shift trying to switch back to days the number one thing that will interfere with sleep is sunlight. Researchers even had study participants wear welders masks when being driven home to see if it made a difference. It did. If you can be in your dark sleep space before the sun comes up it is ideal. If not you may find you have a few hours of alertness before being able to rest. Skip the caffeine and use the mid morning circadian dip and carbohydrates to induce sleeping if not fatigued enough to overcome reset from seeing sunrise.

ETA: one last thing on caffeine is planning usage for an hour before any known critical performance event. You might not know when these are coming as an EMT versus a different job (like a pilot) who knows when they will be. Also being aware of not overusing caffeine recreationally so that you will get good effectiveness from it when needed.
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Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Jumping in to say thank you again for all of the advice. I had my first night shift last night (7am Thurs-7am Fri.) and it went well. We are generally very busy during the day doing training, station work, and scheduled ambulance transfers in addition to 911 calls. Around 6 pm, though, it's just the small night crew on for fire or medical emergencies. We were lucky to get to sleep most of the night, though I didn't sleep particularly well and took a short nap when I got home. Hopefully, as I get more used to the routine I'll sleep better.

I did learn that I need to wear my duty boots that have a side-zipper because tying boots in the middle of the night is a surprisingly time-consuming pain in the neck!


Angel Diva
In this conversation I keep picturing you dressed in full firefighter turnout gear, trying to sleep. Even though I know that's not what you're wearing.

I imagine a time will come when you're exhausted and you could sleep in full firefighter gear!


Ski Diva Extraordinaire
In this conversation I keep picturing you dressed in full firefighter turnout gear, trying to sleep. Even though I know that's not what you're wearing.

I imagine a time will come when you're exhausted and you could sleep in full firefighter gear!

Ha ha, I got to wear my turnout gear AND ride in the engine last week and was beside myself with excitement. I kept asking "What's this!?...what does that do!?" I was basically told not to touch a LOT of cool stuff. :becky:

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