1. If you can, take a nap. The UCLA Sleep Disorders Center recommends taking a nap right before reporting for a night shift. A nap — they recommend about 90 minutes long — can help you stay awake and alert while you’re on the job. Likewise, the center recommends 15 to 20 minutes of wake time before driving into work, or before starting work, as that is about the time most people need to become safely awake.
  2. Eat well. This doesn’t just mean eating enough, but also knowing what foods make you drowsy and what foods keep you awake. You want to avoid foods that make you tired, like heavy meals or fast food right before going to work. On the flip side, avoid foods that make you more alert prior to bedtime, like sugary drinks.
  3. Don’t be afraid of drinking caffeine, but also get in the habit of giving yourself four stimulant-free hours prior to going to bed.
  4. Communicate with your family about your needs from them while you’re doing shift work. If you need things to be quiet while you sleep, use earplugs, but also stress the need for assistance in keeping the household volume at tolerable levels. Try to learn to sleep with some noise. That way you’re less likely to awaken if someone slams a door, drops a plate or gets the dog barking.
  5. Pre-sleep routines can be important. Even if your shift is often changing, maintain the same pre-sleep routine — showering, teeth brushing and other always-repeated actions so your body can get the signal that it’s time to rest, whether you’re getting ready for bed at 10 p.m. or 7 a.m.

Taking these steps to be well rested and well-fed can make a big difference in making a success of any job — especially if that job involves shift work.

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