The majority of our Effective Fitness Team Members have endured the brutal night shift at some point in their career. The "night shift" is often referred to as dogwatch, graveyard, and midnights.
How can we make the best of it?
From experience, we have found some essential tools and tricks that have helped us stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
This article will break down these Night Shift Hacks in hopes of helping other officers around the world own the fact that working in the dark is probably one of the toughest things to do, but someone has to do it.
The most important aspect of working odd hours is a healthy sleep regimen. Most folks are not used to sleeping during the day and staying up all night. It takes time for your body to adjust to a different sleep schedule. Especially if you’ve had a somewhat normal sleep schedule for 15-20 years before you work your first night shift schedule.
We have always found that consistency is key, as with any aspect of a healthy lifestyle.
With sleep, it starts with trying to maintain the same schedule, even on your days off.
However, if this is not an option (as it’s not with some of us with kids and family that are active in school and sports, etc. But there is still hope, even for you!
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A healthy sleep regimen for working night shift starts with an adjustment day on either end of your shift. For example, if you work 3-4 days of night shift, the day before the first shift, STAY UP so you can force yourself to then sleep during the day.
Everyone else in my neighborhood has normal activities that happen during the day. Mowing lawns, sometimes small construction, garbage trucks, vehicle and pedestrian traffic, etc. In order to prevent these things from disturbing my sleep, I use the above tools.
Sleep is already not always a top priority for a lot of people. However, working night shift hours, it’s extremely crucial to allow for as much sleep as possible. It’s very easy to plan for 7-9 hours of sleep working a 9-5 or similar job. It’s a lot more difficult when working night shift.
Some people have issues falling asleep, no matter what their activities were during the day. Part of a healthy sleep regimen is to eliminate blue light (screens). It can become a bad habit to utilize screens to help fall asleep, when, it is of no benefit and a hinderance to a proper sleep pattern.
If you choose to use any type of sleep aids, stick to naturally performing hormones, such as melatonin. Your body already produces melatonin and small doses can be effective in assisting with falling asleep. However, this type of aid should only be used temporarily and should not be relied on for daily sleep habits.
Now add in, a healthy diet, a consistent workout routine, commuting, etc. and sleep becomes less and less of a priority. All those things take time, which becomes more and more precious when working nightshift. However, it’s also easy to plan for all these things to help provide consistency in your lifestyle.
When it comes to eating healthy while working night shift, meal prep is essential.
The main reason for this is, what healthy options are available to you in the middle of the night? The answer is… ALMOST ZERO.
Most Officers working nightshift find themselves hungry in the middle of the night and if they didn’t prepare meals or snacks, they often rely on the options available to them. Unfortunately, this typically means energy drinks, fast food, and other options that usually don’t equal the most about of nutritional value.
Taking some time out of your week, prior to the start of your work week, will allow for plenty of time for meal preparation. Typically, meal prep time can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour and that includes 6-10 meals per week.
Purchasing healthy snacks in bulk such as dried fruits, nuts, jerky, etc. is essential, too. The less opportunity to rely on food items that don’t benefit me, the better.
Another important tool that coincides with proper rest and nutrition is sufficient hydration. Most of the time, if you are working your first night shift, you will forget that your body needs to be hydrated on a consistent basis.
It’s very easy to get halfway through a shift without drinking enough water, only to be left playing catch up for several hours.
A good hack to this is to supplement salt or other electrolytes into your water.
Salt is a preferred method instead of other items, which may contain fillers such as sweeteners or even sugar. Some shifts may be busier than others but typically if you are well hydrated, you will need to urinate every 2-3 hours.
Dehydration plays a major role in quality of sleep and performance during training sessions as well. Don’t let night shift fool you into thinking you are more hydrated than you should be.
When it comes to training, working out when working nightshift is not as difficult as most people think. Again, it usually comes down to planning and preparation.
Many prefer to workout before shift. This is a personal preference and not a rule of thumb for everyone, but it does work well for the majority of our members.
I typically stick to the EFT daily programming religiously, however, there are days when sleep deprivation and lack of proper nutrients effect my workouts. When that happens, it’s a simple change:
Modify the workout based on how you are feeling that day.
That means something a little different for everyone. Some prefer to keep the intensity that the program is scheduled for, BUT adjust the weights or volume. If you do not adjust the volume/load, adjust the intensity instead. In some way or another, you will need to lower the stress this training session places on your body (and nervous system).
It is also completely OK to skip a day of training to catch up on sleep and make up the day later in the week. There is no strict rule that the days scheduled need to be followed EXACTLY AS WRITTEN. However, the days are programmed the way they are for a reason. If you adjust one day, just remember that you should adjust the entire week to stay consistent with the plan of the programming.
If you end your work week and find yourself overly tired, again, adjust or skip your workout and adjust your programming schedule accordingly. The EFT program is more flexible than most people think. Utilize the programming to fit your needs.
You might also find your recovery from training is different than normal, based on the changes to your sleep, nutrition and training routines. Be sure to utilize the programmed warmup and cooldown procedures to assist with prep and recovery.
Here's a sample cooldown from the Effective Fitness Program:
A) Foam Roll or use Lax Ball on tender areas for 3-5 Minutes
B) 2 Rounds x 30 seconds each
Sumo Squat Stretch
Instep Stretch R/L
C) 90/90 Box Breathing for 3-5 Minutes To Down-Regulate the Nervous System
Another good tool to help during shifts is to GET OUT OF YOUR CAR. Sitting for extended periods of time can be detrimental to your posture, muscles and joints. Get out, walk, stretch and move around.
You should do all these things during the day anyways, why would night shift be any different?
A reminder: EFT also offers a Minimalist Program version of the daily program that is modified by utilizing just a set of dumbbells or kettlebells and bodyweight movements, which can be done at home or even at work. The modified training program can be adjusted to fit your needs and utilized to fill any gaps that may occur in your training due to a nightshift schedule.
You may also find yourself having difficulty finding the time to attend other trainings such as combative or firearms related training sessions. Luckily, combative drills are included in the EFT program and can be done alone, at home or at work during downtime.
Firearms training can still be done, even at night. Dry fire drills and weapons manipulation drills can be performed anywhere. Just remember that if you are unable to conduct live fire drills at night, practice dry fire drills in a safe manner, utilizing an empty weapon, in a safe area, with no live ammunition around. You can also spend any of your down time reading case law and expanding your knowledge on certain topics.
*Always follow agency policies and procedures when it comes to utilizing any of these techniques or tools while at work.*
Working nightshift can be detrimental to both your mental and physical health if not properly planned and adjusted for. Hopefully these tools/hacks can benefit you!
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