This post has been awhile coming but hopefully will worth the wait.
In Part 1 I described the principles I follow to minimise the circadian rhythm disruption from shift work. This post is basically what I do.
I work 3 types of shifts:
DAY SHIFT – Start time between 7.15am and 9am. Finish time between 4.15pm and 5pm.
EVENING SHIFT – Start between 4pm and 6pm. Finish time between midnight and 1am.
NIGHT SHIFT – Start at 11.30pm. Finish 7.30am.
Let me describe how I approach my schedule on each of these shifts.
6-7AM – I get up between these times depending on the actual start time with my Lumie light alarm clock. It doesn’t pull me out of sleep in the middle of the cycle so I don’t generally feel too groggy in the morning. My partner, Jamie, may object to that statement, at least until I had breakfast and coffee. I take a shower with a 60 second cold water exposure to wake me up and potentially give hormetic benefits. Plus I am Russian so it’s kind of compulsory.
6.45-7.30AM – My breakfast is generally pretty simple: high protein (around 30g) to maximise tryptophan and ensure good melatonin production later in the evening, some seasonal fruit, sometimes a salad, always coffee.
- 3 scrambled eggs + smoked salmon/sardines/sausages/bacon + beetroot/carrot/apple salad + piece of fruit + 1 tbsp of coconut yoghurt
- protein pancakes: 4 eggs + 2 tbsp of egg white protein powder + banana whipped into pancakes and served with seasonal fruit and coconut yoghurt
7.15-9AM – I ride my bike to work, frequently taking my sunglasses off to absorb as much light as I can in the morning (unless it’s howling wind which makes my eyes water and therefore makes me a menace on the road). It only takes me 10 minutes to get to work, the variation above is due to various start times.
10-11AM – Another black coffee.
12-1PM – Lunch. Ideally I would have liked to go outside for 30 minutes however I only get 30 minutes and we don’t have any space outside to sit down. My compromise is sometimes to eat my lunch on the balcony unless it’s freezing cold.
- Leftovers from the night before (meat + veg)
- Boiled eggs + salad
- Takeaway dish from a nearby Thai container (also meat + veg curry). Sometimes another coffee if I have time.
4-6PM – Finish work and ride home. We generally train in the evenings of my day shifts: either Kung Fu or a strength & conditioning session. At this time I would usually have a snack: 2-3 boiled eggs or a coconut smoothie with egg white protein.
6-8.30PM – We do our strength and conditioning sessions out of our own garage gym, making “going to the gym” quite easy for us. We try to finish by 7pm. However our Kung Fu session on Monday night finishes at 8.30pm – quite late but can’t be helped unfortunately. We frequently eat dinner before it. S&C sessions are generally harder and require pre-fuelling (eggs as above) and full dinner afterwards.
6-9PM – Depending on the training, dinner will fit somewhere here. It’s normally a very simple affair.
- Meat (lamb chops, salmon, pork chops, chicken) + starch (kumara or potato) + greens (broccoli, kale, bok choy)
Most nights we spend together we have a cup of herbal tea and some dark chocolate (1-2 squares of 85% Lindt).
We also normally wear our Gunnars blue blockers from about 8pm. We don’t watch TV but we do spend some time online in the evenings. I know this is one area where we can make improvements but for now we make do.
7-9AM – Wake up time. Later in this interval if I had another evening shift the night before. Never past 9am. Breakfast and coffee as usual. Aiming to have breakfast within 2 hours of my day shift breakfast time.
9AM-12PM – variable. Sometimes I do an extra shift at an immigration medicals clinic. Mostly I do some AHSNZ work, read, study. Sometimes I do nothing (gasp!) or read a book. Sometimes I spend too long on social media but I am working on that.
12-1PM – Lunch. As you see, similar time as day shift.
1PM-2PM – I have no idea what I do at this time. Probably not much. Last coffee for the day around this time.
2-3PM – Sometimes I train in our home gym. However, our golden rule is no training more than 3 days in a row. Another one is no training after 3 evening shifts in a row. So if I am not training I am probably napping.
A word on napping. I freely admit to being a champion napper. And I don’t think it’s because I have some sort of a napping gene. I normally wind down with a book on a couch. When I feel ready to close my eyes I don’t force sleep. I frequently lie there, lazily thinking pleasant thoughts and actively avoiding unpleasant ones. Sometimes I don’t fall into a deep sleep. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t slept at all but when I open my eyes it turns out I actually have. The total time of eye closed always ends up being about 25 minutes. Some of it is spent awake, some in Stage I sleep. I rarely drop off into a deeper sleep, unless I am really tired and underslept. If that happens I actually allocate a full 90 minutes to allow for a full sleep cycle.
3PM – MY LAST COFFEE
4PM – 1AM – Work. I ride my bike unless it is a full-on Southerly storm.
9-9.30PM – Dinner. Quite late, but still within 2 hours of my day shift dinner time. My wonderful partner normally brings a hot home-cooked meal. Yes, I know, I am spoiled.
9.30PM – After dinner I put on my blue-blockers on and work with them. Yes, I see patients wearing my blue-blockers. Occasionally, people comment. Most of the time though my Gunnars look inconspicuous enough and nobody notices the yellow lenses. Or maybe patients are too tired themselves and can’t be bothered.
10-11PM – Sometimes a cup of herbal tea if it’s not too busy. But most of the time it’s too busy.
12PM-1AM – Finish work. I stop thinking about work the second I walk out of the clinic. I had nurses and doctors basically snigger sarcastically at that assertion. I never said it would be easy. It’s not, especially if you are wound up about a case. But I actively think about something else and if my thoughts wander back to the clinic I force them around again. Generally I just ride my bike, look around, feel the wind, listen to the sounds, and stay mindful.
When I get home there is usually only a small light on in the kitchen. I leave my phone in the lounge room to charge (without turning on). I have a glass of sparkling water with one capsule of magnesium, brush my teeth and get into bed. I generally fall asleep within 10 minutes. Depending on my schedule I would get up between 7 and 9am the following morning giving me a total time in bed between 6 hours (worst case scenario) and 8 hours (best case scenario)
If I have less than 8 hours I will be having a nap the following day and may cancel my training.
I am very fortunate in that I am only rostered on 1 night shift in 8 weeks. However, this can present challenges on itself as your body never has the opportunity to adapt since it’s normally slotted in between days and evenings.
9AM – Wake up. On the day of the night shift I try get up slightly later than usually. I adhere to the same food and activity schedule as I would on my DAY or EVENING shift.
3-4PM – I would try to have a nap if we are not out hiking. This can be slightly longer than usually – up to 90 mins.
8PM – Dinner – I will try to avoid lots of starchy carbohydrates at dinner before the night shift. The simple rule I find useful: Protein – to wake you up. Carbs – to go to sleep. The dinner before the night shift is likely to be meat + salad or green veg.
8-10PM – The complete opposite of what I would normally do at night. No Gunnars, no book reading, lots of artificial light. I would probably watch a movie (action!) or an educational DVD or just indulge in browsing YouTube for kung fu videos.
10-11PM – Coffee. I make an espresso before leaving for work. If I am slightly hungry – I would boil some eggs and have them before work.
11.30PM – 7.30AM – I am the only doctor in the clinic at this time and it is normally very busy. I see 20-25 patients in this period, some of them pretty unwell. There are always treats in the clinic enjoyed by nursing and reception staff. I have a rule of eating NOTHING for the full 8 hours. This makes it really easy to say no, without having to analyse the contents or the ingredients of what is offered. Would I eat at this time on any other day? No. Neither my metabolism nor my digestion would be happy to be loaded with food (especially of the cake, biscuit and chocolate variety) at this time of the night. I drink herbal tea and rarely feel hungry.
6AM – I put on my Gunnars around this time
7.30AM – I put on my darkest sunglasses before walking out into the morning sunlight. It’s irrelevant how tired you feel just before finishing the shift, morning light has the ability to magically wake you up. I ride home. Jamie has already drawn all the blinds and would have cooked breakfast ready before my arrival. The breakfast is likely to contain more carbs than usual, and I only get to smell his coffee. The house is dark and looks like a cave. I wear my sunglasses while eating breakfast. It looks as weird as it sounds.
POST NIGHT SLEEP: As I mentioned in my last post, the focus is on number of cycles slept rather than on the total. The first 2 x 90 mins cycles are my deep sleep. These are absolutely precious and should be protected at all times. I wear eyeshades and ear plugs with my bedroom dark and cool. Every block you get after this is a bonus, taking you from zombie -> grumpy -> exhausted -> functional -> mostly normal at each step of the way. You can wake up and even get up between each block. Once again, anchor your food (have lunch at normal time), and never sleep around sundown.
8AM-12.30AM – First 3 cycles done. I normally wake spontaneously around 11 after then first 2 the drop off back to sleep for another 90 mins, then wake up hungry.
12.30-1PM – LUNCH. Normal lunch. No coffee though.
1-2PM – Depending on how I feel I might go for a walk or do some easy chores.
2PM – variable – I will try to go for another 2 cycles. The sleep is likely to be more broken, more shallow and have more dreams. All entirely normal and consistent with normal sleep architecture.
5PM – The latest wake up time. Trying to stay active and do chores around this time
7PM – Frequently a kung fu class. I fell clunky and slow and may even turn down any sparring but moving feels good.
9PM – Dinner.
11PM – Bed. Possibly extra magnesium before bedtime.
In my context, I frequently switch back to a day shift the following day. If I were to repeat a night shift it would flow pretty smoothly from here. The only thing I would change is coffee. I normally have NO COFFEE the day after night shift. If I were moving on to another night shift – I would have a coffee around 6pm and then another coffee after dinner.
I find this approach keeps the disruption from my shifts to a minimum. I am so used to my schedule that I am not sure I could go back to a 9 to 5 Monday to Friday life ever again. I am writing these words in a café at 11am on a Thursday morning, sipping my coffee, opposite my partner Jamie who is also working on his laptop. We’ll have lunch together, then train, then I will probably (most likely) have a nap, then go to work at 7pm.
Shift work has some real lifestyle benefits as long as you are proactive in mitigating its drawbacks.