Photo of man sleeping, illustrating shift work.

Shift work can be tough on your body, especially if it goes against your natural rhythms. At best, it can leave you constantly groggy. At worst, it can actually put you at risk for health problems ranging from diabetes to cancer. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your body adapt and even thrive on your offbeat schedule.

Use Caffeine Wisely
Caffeine can give you some much-needed energy, as well as creating a comforting ritual. But be sure to enjoy it early in your shift. Six hours before you plan to sleep, cut out the coffee and switch to low- or no-caffeine alternatives. Fresh juice or decaffeinated tea can help you feel refreshed without messing up your sleep cycles.

Work It Out
Your body needs regular exercise, but you may not feel like doing it before a long, late shift. Another alternative is to hit the gym right after you get off work, whether that’s 5 p.m. or 4 a.m. A high-intensity workout can burn off your work stress and help tire you out enough to fall asleep.

Eat Well
Skip the big, fat-laden meals that can send you drifting off to dreamland. Instead, eat several small, healthy meals throughout the day. If you start feeling tired at work, reach for a handful of nuts or another high-protein snack. If you’re craving sugar, try a piece of fruit.

Find Anchor Sleep
For many shift workers, figuring out when to sleep can be challenging. Focus on anchor sleep, which is a four-hour period during which you sleep every day. Then, depending on what’s going on that day, you can add hours to the beginning or end of the anchor. To avoid disrupting your rhythms, try to keep up with your anchor sleep, even on days off.

Use White Noise and Blackout Curtains
If your anchor sleep is during the day, you’ll need to take active steps to create restful sleeping conditions. A white noise machine helps to block out the sounds of daily activity, while blackout curtains create a dark environment that can help you fall asleep.

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