Though I don’t work the night shift, I’m an avowed night owl. Some of my best writing happens between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. (when most folks are in full REM mode). But indulging my nocturnal tendencies without risking my health takes a little bit of strategy. Whether you’re working the graveyard shift, or just a stubborn night owl like me, here are six ways to stay healthy when you’re staying up all night.
1. Stick to a regular sleep cycle
It’s tempting to want to be awake when the rest of the world is awake. But if you work the night shift, that’s simply not possible. To maintain your physical and mental well-being, establish a regular daytime sleep schedule and stick to it even during your days off. Also, use naps strategically to “power-up” right before each shift. Remember, your routine is your friend. (See also: 5 Bedtime Routines of Famous Financial Gurus)
2. Create a restful environment at home
When it’s time to sleep, you want to be able to sleep. Turn your bedroom into a slumber-ready refuge. Invest in blackout curtains to prevent even the thinnest sliver of sunshine from disturbing your dreams. Mask traffic noise with a white noise machine or buy a few dozen pair of those disposable foam earplugs to deaden everything that goes bump in the day. (See also: How to Fall Asleep When You Can’t)
Sure, friends and family may know you work the night shift, but that doesn’t stop the endless stream of daytime text messages, emails, and robocalls. To protect your sleep, consider going dark during daylight hours. Silence your phone and turn off all audible notifications.
4. Eat right
Don’t treat your late night meals like midnight snacks. Eat small, nutritionally dense meals comprised of lean meats, leafy green vegetables, and a few fruits. Avoid fatty, carb-heavy foods. They may fill your stomach and give you a short boost of energy, but the inevitable crash will make the rest of your shift feel like torture. (See also: 10 Foods That Can Help You Sleep)
5. Limit sugar and caffeine
Caffeine and sugar — Wonder Twin powers activate! This winning combination has been fueling American workers for generations. But if you’re working the night shift, know when to say “no.” About four or five hours before the end of every shift, begin phasing out caffeine and sugar. That window will give your body time to recover from the effects of both stimulants and help you fall asleep easier when you get home. (See also: 12 Reasons to Stop Eating Sugar Forever)
6. Stay active
I totally get it; after working all night, working out is the last thing on your mind. Still, try to fit in 15-20 minutes of moderate exercise before wrapping up your day. Keep things logistically simple. Instead of heading to the gym, stay home and speed walk on the treadmill or practice a few minutes of mindful yoga. Besides boosting your metabolism, it’ll help you relax and improve the quality of your sleep. (See also: 6 Simple Ways to Get More Exercise Without Working Out)