Here are some shiftworker tips to help you maximize alertness when they work long night shifts,
1. Make sleep a priority. Getting enough sleep is vital because it's much tougher to make it through a long shift when you're sleep-deprived. To enhance daytime sleep, set up a separate room just for sleeping, eliminating light and noise. Many workers who can sleep for only a few hours when they get home find it beneficial to take a nap (or at least lie down for a while) before getting ready to return to work.
2. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise - three or four 20-minute workouts per week - helps people fall asleep faster and sleep longer, increasing the amount of restorative deep sleep.
3. Take it easy on work days. Set limits on what you do - eating, sleeping, and some time spent relaxing with family members. Save strenuous activities for days off.
4. Eat smart. Eat healthy foods that provide energy. Examples include fruits, vegetables, bagels, pretzels, crackers and popcorn. Avoid high-sugar snacks such as candy bars that provide a temporary burst of energy and then cause you to crash.
5. Use caffeine wisely. Caffeine provides a significant boost in alertness, but abusing it can lead to sleep and stomach problems. In general, consume no more than two or three cups of caffeine beverages (coffee, tea, "energy" drinks, etc.) per shift, and set a cutoff point within four or five hours of bedtime.
6. Exercise on the job. A mini-workout during the night shift is tremendously helpful for breaking up the shift and providing an alertness boost. If you don't have access to exercise equipment, try jogging up and down several flights of stairs or find someplace where you can do push-ups and sit-ups.
7. Keep a positive attitude. It's not always easy, but making a conscious effort to maintain a positive frame of mind will make work more pleasant. Negative thinking may make you feel lethargic.
8. Work wisely. Tactics for making it through a tough shift include changing tasks often, doing work requiring moderate physical activity, doing enjoyable assignments at times of low alertness, and talking to coworkers.
9. Assess driver drowsiness. A final key is for workers to take a few minutes to judge whether they're capable of driving home. If employees are too tired to drive, they should be encouraged to take a nap or make alternate arrangements to go home, such as a taxi or a ride from a co-worker.
Adapted from the February 1999, issue of Working Nights.