Up all night? Get back on track with suggestions from people who work the graveyard shift for a living
So You Got No Sleep...
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Staying up all night doesn't leave anyone feeling refreshed, revitalized, and ready to go. (Anyone who's pulled an all-nighter knows the next day can leave you feeling like a zombie chasing a caffeine drip.) But for many people—doctors, bartenders, call attendants, or police officers who work night shifts—working all night is a day-to-day reality.
The problem is, shift work doesn't just leave us zonked. The World Health Organization considers it a probable carcinogen—and research suggests that if you spend your nights wide awake, you're more likely to suffer not just from certain kinds of cancer but also diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cognitive impairment. (In fact, it could be the culprit behind your recent weight gain.)
That's why many overnight workers fight back harder, mastering the art of maintaining a healthy diet, an exercise schedule, and a sleep routine despite less-than-ideal circumstances. So next time you find yourself lacking serious Zzzs, consider their tips to find energy and make it through the day like a healthy human.
Heat Things Up
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Coffee has its perks, but April Wachtel, a mixologist and founder/CEO of Swig + Swallow, a cocktail batching and delivery service says that her ideal trick for alertness involves another kind of hot liquid: jumping in the shower first thing in the morning. Brittney, 27, an administrator at a 24/7 call and support center agrees, saying that a hot shower is usually enough to provide a short burst of (much-needed) energy.
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The importance of a good cup of joe goes beyond caffeine: "Coffee is almost always the first thing I reach for in the mornings," says Wachtel. "I love the ritual as much as the energy." She's onto something: Getting your body used to certain habits at certain times can help maintain regularity—and energy. (Try these 5 Easy Ways to Start Your Day Stress-Free too.)
And while we all know the powers of caffeine, Deborah Rathz, M.D., Ph.D., a medical ICU and ER physician at the Cleveland Clinic, says that timing matters. "My day begins with a mug of dark roast coffee, whether I start at 7 a.m. or 11 p.m." Feel yourself crashing midday? Try Rahtz's trick and sip something like coconut chai tea—which has less caffeine than coffee. Then skip it later in the day—at least six or so hours before you hit the sack—so that it doesn't mess with your next night's sleep.
If you need something, Wachtel finds that a fresh juice (she makes hers with kale, apple, celery, cucumber, ginger, and lemon) rejuvenates just as much as caffeine.
Work Out In the Morning
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It's likely the last thing you want to do after a night without sleep: hit the pavement or sweat it out in the gym. But Chelsea Caracciolo, a clinical educator at McLean Hospital in Boston, MA, says that exercise is her first move after an overnight shift. "In the summer, it's a lot easier because the sun is usually too bright to allow me to fall asleep," she says. "But I also find that working out in the morning after my shift allows for me to sleep a little bit longer."
What are the best ways to sweat? Caracciolo opts for high-intensity cardio, like boxing or cycling. "It instantly jolts me awake, unlike most meditative, restful exercises like yoga." (More of a night owl? You can become a morning exerciser!)
Look for Good-for-You Food
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It stinks: Fast food always looks better on the days that we're sleep-deprived. But reaching for it will only make you feel worse. That's why Blaise, a 29-year-old administrator at a 24/7 call center, stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy diet. "I can't stress that enough—lots of fruits and veggies," he says. "It's easy to grab a fast meal if you are tired, but I've found that that ends up draining my energy even more."
In fact, after her overnight shifts, Avani Desai, M.D., an emergency medicine doctor at Loyola University Health System usually heads to the grocery store for food—so that she knows there will be a good selection of fruits and vegetables. If you don't have time for that, making sure the fridge is stocked and that you have snacks on hand can be the difference between an energy-sapping bacon, egg, and cheese and fueling meals and snacks all day long. (Try these freezer meals you can warm up for breakfast.)
After all, your best bet is to avoid large meals that may send you into a food coma, says Rathz. For energy, she opts for small, frequent meals and snacks that are high in protein.
Skip Day Drinking
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Up all night partying? Some people swear that a little hair of the dog takes the edge off, but Wachtel disagrees. "It just makes me more sleepy," she says.
Even more: Alcohol can throw your sleep schedule even more out of whack than it already is. Opt for these healthy recipes to ease a hangover instead.
Try a White Noise App
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If you can't sleep after a few nights of wonky sleep, construction crews, loud city streets, and annoying roommates don't help. "White noise machines are worth their weight in gold," says Blaise. Wachtel and Desai agree. There are all different kinds of apps you can choose from too. Try the app White Noise (free; itunes.com)—different environmental sounds from waves crashing on the beach to the soft sounds of rain will put you right to sleep. (Here, more Affordable Products for a Better Night's Sleep.)
If You Actually Work the Night Shift ... Anchor Your Sleep
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For night shift workers, Desai says that research shows the concept of anchor sleep—making sure you log the same four hours of sleep every day—is key. What that looks like: Make sure you're in bed from 1 to 5 p.m. every day, for example; and add hours to that on either end. "It's just so that you have some sort of regularity and schedule," she says.
If You Actually Work the Night Shift ... Buy Blackout Shades
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Caracciolo says that graveyard shift workers need to invest in blackout shades, ear plugs, and an eye cover. "The worst thing is to be woken up by the sun or the noise of construction," she says. "It's hard enough to fall asleep when the sun is up—so anything that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep is a must." Finding the right products might require a bit of trial and error, she notes, but the process is worth it. (P.S. Don't fall for these Common Sleep Myths.)