How to Stay Awake During a Night Shift in 15 Steps

Updated 11 September 2023

There are a variety of careers available that involve working overnight or portions of the evening and early morning hours. If you're applying for a role that requires you to work during the night, you may benefit from reviewing tips for staying awake and energised. Understanding these strategies can help you overcome the challenges of this shift and ensure you remain focused and productive. In this article, we define what this type of working pattern involves and outline 15 steps you can follow to help you learn how to stay awake during a night shift.

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What is a night shift?

The night or third shift refers to the hours you work beyond midnight. It's been common for employees in industries such as healthcare and factories to work through the night. There are now many more fields with either on-site or remote night-shift roles, including:

  • security

  • law enforcement

  • transportation

  • manufacturing

  • information technology (IT)

  • e-commerce

  • forestry

  • hospitality

  • entertainment

  • repair and maintenance

Related: How Many Work Hours in a Week Is Effective in Singapore

How to stay awake during a night shift

If you're accustomed to working during the day, transitioning to a role that involves overnight shifts and learning how to stay awake during a night shift may be a challenge. Here's a list of 15 steps you can follow to help you:

1. Create a dark sleeping area

As you adjust your sleeping schedule, it's important to ensure you still sleep well so you can function normally when you're working. It's a good idea to create a dark sleeping area during the day to imitate night-time. This helps your circadian rhythm, which is a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle in which you typically sleep at night and stay awake during the day, to adjust as you transition to your new waking hours.

Whether you're working on-site or remotely, it's key to have energy and remain alert during your shift. You can purchase thick curtains that block out light to create a dark space, making it easier for you to sleep at any time of day.

Related: What Is Shift Work? (With Examples, Tips, Pros and Cons)

2. Adjust your sleep schedule

When you first start working during the night, your body still functions on a standard circadian rhythm. You can gradually adjust your sleep schedule by staying awake as late as possible for a couple of nights before you start your night shift. You can then try to sleep for as long as possible into the day. After a few days, your body may become more acclimated to sleeping during the day and staying awake through the night.

3. Awaken yourself with invigorating scents

You can consider using invigorating scents, such as peppermint or citrus, to enliven your senses and help you prepare for your night shift. You may use candles or essential oil diffusers to spread the scents through your living space, helping you wake up and feel refreshed before you begin your shift. You can also rub essential oils onto your palms or temples to help you feel energised for several hours.

4. Exercise when you wake up

Frequent physical activity can improve your heart health, circulation and metabolism, which can help you stay productive and alert. When you wake up for your night shift, consider making time for exercise before you work. Just 15 to 20 minutes may give you the added boost to stay attentive during your shift and can also help you sleep better.

Related: Tips for Better Work-Life Balance

5. Eat a healthy meal before work

On a night shift, your working day begins when you wake up in the afternoon or evening to go to your job. Eating a healthy meal, especially after exercise, can give you the necessary nutrients for your body and brain to function properly. If you work in a sedentary job such as a desk, high-protein foods can help you focus. If you walk a lot while working, healthy carbohydrates can energise your body and help you stay active.

6. Bring nutritious snacks

Many people enjoy eating snacks while working and certain foods can benefit you during a night shift. Starting the evening with a healthy meal can give you the energy to begin your shift, and enjoying nutritious snacks every few hours can help you maintain your physical and mental stamina until your shift ends. Choices like nuts, fruits, vegetables and wholewheat crackers can have health benefits that may keep your energy levels high.

7. Stay busy throughout your shift

It's a good idea to stay busy at work. You can bring a puzzle or book to keep your mind active during quieter periods in a shift. You might also consider completing tasks you have on the calendar for another day earlier. This can help you stay on schedule and alert during your night shift.

Related: How to Be Efficient at Work in 9 Steps (Plus Benefits)

8. Keep your workspace bright

Just as it can be easier to sleep in a dark room, it's often easier to stay awake in a well-lit space. Using bright artificial lights can mimic the daytime sunlight which makes it easier for your body to stay awake. You can increase the brightness in your workspace by keeping all the lights on and bringing a lamp for your desk or work area.

9. Make friends with your colleagues

If you work with other colleagues or have communication tools that help you stay connected remotely, making conversation can help keep you focused and make the night shift pleasant. It can help increase morale and improve job satisfaction if you discuss interesting topics like upcoming events, hobbies or families. Forming a social network may also provide you with job motivation.

10. Limit your caffeine intake

It's common to drink tea or coffee to keep awake and feel energetic at the beginning of a shift. This can provide temporary energy but it's important to limit your caffeine intake as your shift progresses so you can sleep when you're finished. Consider drinking water, herbal teas or other caffeine-free beverages to help you stay hydrated and support your body as it adjusts to your unusual working hours.

11. Take breaks and stretch your muscles

As you're working a night shift, it's important to take frequent breaks and stretch your muscles or perform short, simple exercises. Taking breaks can give you a burst of energy and help you refocus on your job duties, especially if your role involves performing the same tasks repeatedly. For example, you can take a 10-minute break and walk around your office area or outside the building, or you may choose to stand up and perform simple stretches at your desk.

12. Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated during your shift can help you combat fatigue and feel more energised. Drinking water is an effective way of ensuring you stay alert for several consecutive hours. You can keep a water bottle near your desk or workspace to increase your water intake.

13. Handle simple tasks first

You may benefit from prioritising your job duties and completing simple tasks before handling more complex responsibilities. This helps prepare you for managing challenging tasks. Choosing to complete easier tasks immediately can help you stay engaged and provide you with additional focus and energy.

Related: Task Management Skills: Definition, Examples and Tips

14. Listen to music or motivational podcasts

If your employer and role allow you to listen to music or podcasts while you work, this can be an effective way to improve your mood and stay awake throughout your shift. Uplifting songs or motivational podcasts can help you stay alert while you manage your professional duties and keep you feeling positive and engaged. Consider making a playlist before arriving at your office and using headphones if you share your workspace with other professionals.

15. Keep your work environment cool

You can keep your professional environment cool to combat any tiredness from warm temperatures and help you stay alert throughout your shift. You can open a window or keep a small fan on your desk or in your office to maintain a suitable temperature for your workspace. If you work from home, you may adjust your thermostat to encourage a cool and comfortable environment.

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