7 Tips on How to Stay Awake on Night Shift

April, 12, 2023

7 Tips on How to Stay Awake on Night Shift

There are many industries that require working night shift hours. While working the night shift can be financially rewarding, it can present unique challenges that day-shift workers typically don’t experience.  Staying awake all night is tough, but if you’re working the night shift, you’ll need to keep yourself alert so you can perform the duties of your job safely and effectively. Whether you’re a healthcare professional, service worker, public safety officer, or another valued employee working the night shift, these tips will help you stay awake overnight and improve your overall health and wellness

Retrain your internal clock

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the internal body clock sets the timing for many circadian rhythms, including sleep and wake cycles. (1)

The best way to stay up all night is to reset your internal clock. Doing so might take as long as one week, but it’s possible. You may feel extreme drowsiness at first, but your body will adjust.

According to a peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Physiology, circadian adaptation to night work is best achieved by combining bright light during the night shift and scheduled sleep in darkness. (2)

If you’re switching to the graveyard shift, give your body a few days of practice. Even once you reset your internal clock, your circadian rhythms still rely on light cues, so make sure you’re sleeping in a very dark room during the day. Blackout curtains and eye masks are particularly helpful. 

Consider your wake-up routine

Much like a consistent bedtime routine can help you sleep better, a solid wake-up routine will give you more energy during your shift, improve focus and alertness, and make you feel better overall. 

According to Dr. Kiran Maski, to optimize your wake-up routine, you should wake up at the same time every day, even on your days off. Keeping a consistent schedule will make it easier to wake up naturally and on time. (3)

Bright light significantly impacts circadian rhythms. Exposing yourself to bright light shortly after getting out of bed can increase wakefulness and alertness. 

Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated

Irregular sleep patterns can disrupt metabolism, too. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, night shift workers may have a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome and or becoming overweight or obese due to poor diet and the disruption of the body’s internal clock. (4)  

Planning meals and snacks ahead of time can help people stay awake during night shift hours and be more relaxed for sleep. Consider the following things when it comes to nutrition:

1. Try to keep similar eating patterns as those you would follow during the daytime.

2. Frequent light meals or healthy snacks help prevent the drowsiness associated with heavy meals.

3. Limit sugary foods. While they provide a short-term energy boost, an energy dip quickly follows.

4. Snack on fruits and vegetables that are digested slowly for energy and provide important vitamins and minerals.

5. Stay hydrated during your shift by drinking plenty of water. However, try not to drink too much right before bed.

Take a nap

Although naps don’t equal a full night’s sleep, short naps can be restorative for the body and brain. Most research studies on night-shift workers find that naps decrease drowsiness, increase alertness, and improve performance. (5)

Aim for 15 to 20 minutes of sleep during a break. If you’re driving through the night, pull into a rest stop for a quick nap.

Drink some caffeine

According to the Sleep Research Society, night shift workers that consumed smaller and more frequent doses of caffeine throughout their day experienced enhanced wakefulness, performed better on cognitive tests, and had fewer unintended naps than those who had no caffeine. (6)

There is evidence that suggests that a small dose of caffeine before a nap can counter the sleep inertia people may experience after waking. (7

Sleep inertia is the feeling of grogginess, disorientation, drowsiness, and cognitive impairment that occurs immediately after waking. 

Ethan’s Clean Energy Shots contain 150 mg of caffeine from green tea and guayusa. Ethan’s has the perfect microdose of caffeine to help you stay awake without the jitters or crashes caused by some energy drinks. 

Exercise regularly

Exercise is one of the best evidence-based ways to improve sleep and health. Exercise can improve all aspects of sleep and has been used as a treatment to manage symptoms of insomnia. 

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, in people with insomnia, exercising regularly reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 55% and increased total sleep time by 18%. (8)

While daily exercise is important for good quality sleep, performing it too close to bedtime may increase difficulty sleeping.

Get up and move to stay awake

Exercise has a stimulatory effect, which increases alertness and hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline. If you’re trying to stay awake during the night shift, try getting up and moving around. Pace back and forth for 10 minutes, take a walk outside, or do a few jumping jacks. (9)

Things night shift workers should avoid

1. Too much caffeine - To stay up all night, don’t rely on one big dose of caffeine. Too much caffeine can lead to stomach upset. It can also disrupt your sleep once you get off work. Avoid consuming caffeine at least 8 hours before bedtime. 

2. Too much sugar - Snacks that are high in sugar give you an initial burst of energy but can make you feel sluggish and tired afterward. 

3. Exposure to light on the way home from work - Minimize exposure to light on the way home from night shift work to keep morning sunlight from activating the internal “daytime clock.”

4. Extended work hours - Avoid working prolonged shifts and putting in excessive overtime. Make sure to have time to sleep and participate in family and social activities.

5. Long commutes - When possible, avoid long commute times which can take time away from sleeping.

6. Frequently rotating shifts - It’s more difficult to manage sleep and promote good health with rotating shifts than it is to work the same shift for a longer period of time.

Transitioning Between Day and Night Shifts

Transitioning between day and night shifts can be challenging, but with the right strategies, you can minimize the impact on your sleep and alertness. Start by adjusting your sleep schedule gradually. Shift your bedtime and wake-up time by small increments each day, allowing your body to adapt slowly. This approach helps synchronize your internal clock with the new shift.

Additionally, maintaining a consistent sleep routine on days off is crucial. Stick to a regular sleep schedule even on weekends or days when you're not working to support circadian rhythm stability. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. By following these techniques, you can ease the transition between day and night shifts and improve your overall sleep quality and alertness.

Understanding Circadian Rhythms

The body's natural sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm, regulates our sleep patterns and alertness throughout a 24-hour cycle. It is influenced by external cues like light and temperature, helping us feel awake during the day and sleepy at night.

Night shifts disrupt the circadian rhythms by requiring wakefulness during the typical sleep period. This misalignment can lead to fatigue, decreased alertness, and difficulty falling asleep during the day.

To minimize the impact of circadian rhythm disruption, establish a consistent sleep schedule even on days off, create a dark and quiet sleep environment, optimize exposure to bright light during the shift, and consider melatonin supplementation under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Taking short naps before a shift can also help maintain alertness.

Long-Term Health Considerations of Night Shifts

Working in night shifts can have long-term health considerations that should not be overlooked. Potential health risks associated with long-term night shift work include sleep disorders, increased risk of chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mental health issues. 

To manage and reduce negative health effects, establish a consistent sleep schedule, prioritize quality sleep, practice healthy eating habits, engage in regular physical activity, and manage stress effectively.

Regular check-ups are crucial for monitoring health markers and addressing any emerging concerns promptly. Prioritizing overall well-being by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, seeking social support, and taking time for self-care can help mitigate the impact of night shift work on long-term health.

Strategies for Dealing with Shift Fatigue

Shift fatigue can be challenging, but there are effective ways to manage it. Recognizing signs of fatigue is crucial, and knowing when to take breaks is essential for restoring energy. Power napping techniques can provide quick energy boosts during a shift. Taking short naps of 15-20 minutes can help combat drowsiness and increase alertness. 

Additionally, engaging in stimulating activities during breaks, such as stretching, walking, or engaging in conversation, can help ward off fatigue and keep the mind active. These strategies can help combat shift fatigue and improve overall alertness during the night shift.

Final takeaway

Staying awake to work the night shift can take a toll on your sleep schedule and health. Poor lifestyle choices and lack of sleep can increase drowsiness and make your workday less productive and more difficult.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help you stay awake during the night shift. During your shift, small doses of caffeine, taking a nap, and getting up to move around can increase alertness and make you feel less drowsy. 

Additionally, adopting specific lifestyle changes like having a consistent wake-up routine and sleep schedule, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet can improve your health and help you feel more energized while at work. 


Small doses of caffeine, taking a nap, and getting up to move around can increase alertness and make you feel less drowsy. 

Authored By

Kristen Carli

Kristen Carli is the owner of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness. She graduated from University of Arizona with a BA in psychology and then received a BS in dietetics from Arizona State University. After completion of the dietetic internship, she continued her education by receiving a MS in Human Nutrition from University of Western States. Having a passion for nutrition communication, she writes for many food and nutrition outlets as well as regularly develops recipes for food brands and media companies. Her nutrition expertise has been featured in InStyle, Bustle, Livestrong, The List, MyFitnessPal and many others. Additionally, Kristen is often featured via local TV segments sharing nutrition tips and tricks. She was selected to act as a Produce for Better Health Foundation Fruit and Vegetable Ambassador in Action, helping to promote the health benefits and importance of consuming fruits and vegetables, as well as a FoodMinds upwaRD winner for 2022, honoring up and coming media dietitians. You can find her reading, running, and exploring new restaurants with her husband and baby boy.

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