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There are many careers in the life sciences that may require night shift work or international travel that can throw off your circadian rhythms. And whether you spend the night in the lab, the hospital, or the airport, it’s hard to take care of your mind and body when your biological clock is confused. Here are some night shift tips to help boost your work performance and maintain a healthy lifestyle:
Try to stick to a sleep routine by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Your body not only needs sufficient sleep, but it also needs a consistent schedule. By planning your sleep around activities and errands, you end up on an erratic sleep schedule that will negatively affect your mood, productivity, and sleep quality. Do what you need to do to get a good night’s sleep during the day – whether it includes soundproofing your room, using earplugs, investing in blackout shades, or wearing eye masks.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or exercise right before bedtime. These all affect your sleep. Instead, take some time to relax before bed, just as a daytime worker would. You need to unwind before trying to get to sleep, so go out to a post-night breakfast with coworkers, take a hot bath, or read before turning in. Save the caffeine and exercise for when you wake before your shift to energize you.
While it is obvious to focus on blocking out light during the day, don’t forget to expose yourself to light during the night! It will keep you alert and signal to your brain that it’s daytime. Be sure to have proper lighting in your workspace or to expose yourself to a sufficient light source throughout your shift. On that note, also invest in good sunglasses – leaving work in the sunlight will trigger your brain to wake up and will hinder your ability to sleep when you get home!
The same diet rules go for daytime workers as nighttime workers. Drink plenty of water – dehydration is a common culprit for fatigue and inability to concentrate. Also, don’t skip breakfast! It’s the most important meal of the day and shouldn’t be skipped because you are tired or rushing out the door. Also, try to eat more protein; it not only helps keep you alert and focused, but it will keep you full and help you avoid snacking on junky foods. Save carbs and sugars for the end of your shift, as they make you drowsy.
Get better at planning! It is hard to have a social life and family life when working the night shift. You will need to plan strategically in order to maintain relationships. Schedule activities ahead of time so that they fit into your schedule and don’t pressure yourself to make it to events that interrupt your sleep schedule. This is key in order to uphold a normal social life despite work restrictions.
If you are continuing to have trouble or feel depressed, it might be a good idea to see a sleep specialist. They are very experienced with the troubles you are facing and can help you cope with these extreme conditions. You are working against the natural systems of your body; it isn’t an easy feat! For some, night shift is not a routine that can be maintained long-term. Everybody is different. But there are ways to make this schedule easier on your mind and body.
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