How to stay awake during shift work?

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At present, our lives and lifestyles are not restricted by day and night. Although humans are meant to be working in the daytime and resting at night, the present socio-economic structure does not offer that opportunity to many people.

People working in hospitals, the transportation industry, the hospitality industry, and several other fields that provide 24x7 service, need to work in shifts.

Due to globalization, collaborative work between people living in different countries and time zones is also commonplace.

All of this means that a lot of the time, people require to work at night. For some, night shifts are permanent, for yet others, they are a continuous but occasional and irregular occurrence.

Since staying active at night is not something we are naturally programmed to do, shift work results in lifestyle issues like sleeping disorders in many people. Even if one does not develop a sleeping disorder, staying awake during a night shift might still be challenging for them.

In this blog, let us discuss sleeping disorders caused by shift work and some natural ways to stay active and awake during shift work.

Shift work and Shift Work Disorder (SWD)

First of all, what is shift work? Shift work is a working condition where you would require to work in shifts, that is, variable time allotments. Unlike some people who have a standard 9 to 5 job, shift workers need to work both night and day. Of course, they do not work throughout the 24 hours, but there are certain days when they work at night, while on other days they work during the daytime.

Undoubtedly, this affects the health, and especially, the sleeping pattern of shift workers. Every function within our body, sleep, hunger, digestion, and others takes place in a strictly cyclic pattern. The circadian rhythm maintains this cycle. Our brain conducts the circadian rhythm through the periodic release of chemical messengers and hormones.

For example, if you eat lunch at the same time every day, within a short while, you would start feeling hungry around that time. This is called habit formation. The sleep cycle of our bodies is also heavily regulated by habit formation. So, if an individual goes to sleep at irregular times for a long time, it would affect the habit formation of sleep. It disrupts the circadian rhythm and confuses the brain.

In some people, this problem can become a clinical condition. In such a scenario, the afflicted individuals lose control of their sleep cycle resulting in sporadic insomnia and untimely excessive sleepiness. When this sleeping condition is caused due to working in shifts, it is called Shift Work Disorder or SWD.

SWD is characterized by difficulty sleeping and excessive sleepiness. In addition to difficulty concentrating, headaches, and fatigue, SWD is also associated with fatigue. Shift workers are not all affected by SWD. SWD is estimated to affect 10% to 40% of shift workers. As a shift worker, you should consult your doctor if experiencing any of the above symptoms.

It is not wise to take SWD lightly. The condition is capable of causing serious damage to your health, lifestyle, and social life. The common risks associated with SWD are:

  • errors and accidents at work
  • irritability or emotional disturbances
  • having trouble adjusting
  • having difficulties in social situations
  • digestive, cardiovascular, and metabolic conditions
  • drug and/or alcohol addiction

Clinical treatment for SWD

The clinical treatment of SWD includes medication and lifestyle therapy. Lifestyle therapy includes helping people follow a diet that helps to maintain a good sleep cycle. It also often involves an exercise plan.

Medications used for SWD two decades ago involved CNS stimulants with a high addiction liability. This scenario changed in the late 1990s when eugeroics were introduced in the global market. Eugeroics are a group of drugs that act as mild stimulants to promote wakefulness and focus. The effect is a lot like caffeine, but safer and more precise. The first and the most popular eugeroic is Modafinil. Currently, Modafinil is the primary prescription for the management of SWD. It helps people stay awake during their work hours so that they can sleep soundly during their bedtime. The abundant prescription of modafinil has made the drug easily available. It is now possible to buy Modafinil without prescription, for off-label purposes.

How to naturally prevent SWD?

SWD can be naturally prevented by:

Building a good sleep habit

Having a healthy diet

Exercising regularly

Practicing mindfulness

How to form healthy sleep habits?

Let us discuss in a little bit of detail how to form a healthy sleep habit. A part of having a healthy sleep habit involves being able to go to sleep during bedtime and wake up feeling fresh and rested. Having good quality sleep with no interruptions is also part of this. Here are some ways to form healthy sleep habits:


Use your bed for sleeping and resting only. Avoid working or watching TV from bed.

Stay away from digital screens for at least one hour prior to your bedtime.

Drink teas or tisanes like chamomile or turmeric tea that help promote sleep naturally before bedtime.

Do not go to sleep immediately after a meal. Take a walk or do some light exercise between a meal and your bedtime.

Remove all distractions from your bedroom. You can use a white noise machine to blur out external sounds.

Sleep in a dark room. If you are sleeping during the daytime, consider using heavy curtains and an eye mask to block sunlight.

5 tips to stay up during shift work

The last segment was all about how to fall asleep easily and have a good sleep during bedtime. This segment is about how to stay awake and alert at work.

  • Eat a snack - A snack would take off sleepiness and give you a boost of energy from the calorie intake.
  • Stay in a well-lit area - Light naturally wards off sleep in most people. Any bright light would help you stay alert.
  • Start a small talk - Our brains tend to feel sleepy out of monotony or boredom. Cut through the monotony of work by having small talk with your coworker or by calling a friend
  • Do a short breathing exercise - This would create a burst of excess oxygen in your bloodstream which would energize your brain and make you feel alert.
  • Take a walk - Taking a walk is a mild form of exercise that would help ward off sleep and make you feel energized.

Final words

That was a wrap! I hope this helps you maintain your sleep habit better and also stay productive and active at work.


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