FIFO Life Part 7: Surviving Night Shift

FIFO Focus director Sandra Lam joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.
In part 7, Sandra talks about surviving the night shift on FIFO.

Key message: Ensuring sleep and fatigue management is the key to minimising the impacts of night shift.

Surviving Night Shift

I can make the big bucks on nights and enjoy the sunshine when everybody else is at work
I’ve got stuff to do. I’ll sleep when I’m dead

Sometimes a lack of sleep is held up as a badge of honor on the night shift. Let’s face it though, nights are tough. It’s even tougher, if you rotate nights with days and afternoon shifts too. Even with scheduled turnaround days, there just isn’t enough time to catch up on what is called your ‘sleep debt’ – a cumulated effect of not getting enough sleep.

Why sleep is so important

Our body needs sleep to do its maintenance and restoration and to dump toxins accumulated in our daily lives. When we don’t sleep, our bodies can’t do this all important work. It’s pretty much like the equipment in the workplace. You know there are shut down schedules where we do a complete shut down on equipment for maintenance, repairs and cleaning. The body needs that kind of maintenance schedule too. You know what happens at work if we skip a scheduled maintenance shut down, right? Well, there are equipment breakdowns and big trouble with the boss. Think of your body as the ‘boss’. No scheduled maintenance means you get called in for a lecture. Our bodies pretty much operate the same way. Here’s why.

Sleep is our only effective, long term strategy to prevent and manage fatigue. Our tired muscles can recover after a period of rest, but our brains can only recover with 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours. This natural rhythm is known as our ‘body clock’ and this 24 hour body clock regulates sleep, body temperature, hormone levels and digestion. Shift workers are one of the main worker groups affected by fatigue. Our body clock does not adjust easily to shiftwork. It’s even worse for nightshift when we are trying to stay awake when our body is programmed to sleep, and to try and sleep when our body is programmed to stay away. So that means we need to have a good plan for how to reduce and manage our sleep deprivation.

Here are a few cool things about our bodies you may not be aware of:
Did you know that when you have been awake for 17 hours it is exactly like you just blew a blood alcohol level of 0.05? And, even worse, if you are awake for 20 hours it is the same as having a blood alcohol level of 0.1? Whoa, right? So, even though you had no alcohol your body is reacting as though you did. That’s pretty impressive, right? That means the amount of time we are awake is just as important as how much sleep we get every day.

Here’s another good one. Did you know that your body mechanism for thirst does not work at night so if you work nights you actually become dehydrated very quickly? When our bodies are dehydrated we slow down and feel very tired and irritable.

The PLAN-WAKE-REST Sleep Management Plan

So what should you do? We’ve developed three short acronyms for you to manage your sleeping before, during and after your shift.


Protein eat protein rather than carbohydrates for dinner before your night shift. Protein keeps us awake, carbohydrates produces chemicals that increase our desire to sleep.
Light exercise – light only before night shift. Save the strenuous workouts for the day before the night shift.
Avoid being awake – for more than 16 hours including your shift. Remember 17 hours awake is equivalent to having a 0.05 blood alcohol content.
Nap – power naps of 20-30 minutes before you feel tired, improves alertness without leaving you feeling groggy. Some people like to sleep as usual the night before, have a big feed for lunch then have a nap before heading into work for the night shift.


Water – drink lots of water to prevent dehydration and even more if you drink coffee. Try to restrict coffee on nights to the first half of the shift to prevent sleep disruption.
Air – get some fresh air and walk around to increase movement
Keep busy and talk – This keeps your brain stimulated. If you sit in one place do crossword puzzles or do quizzes on the radio with coworkers. This will help keep each other alert and prevent accidents too.
Eat – Eating breakfast and dinner at the usual times is smart. Only change the time of your lunch to between midnight and 1:00 AM. Make sure dinner is protein rich. Junk food is not recommended. Your brain doesn’t like that stuff.


Room readiness – make sure your room is dark, cool and quiet. If not, wear eye masks, ear plugs and turn the aircon on.
Exercise – doe light relaxation exercises such as mediation, mindfulness and breathing exercises. Try not to do strenuous exercises as that usually increases adrenaline that can keep you awake.
Sunlight and screens – avoid bright light as much as possible as it triggers wakefulness. Use dark sunglasses on the way back to your room and use an eye mask for darkness during sleep times. Blue screens from phones and ipads will keep you awake. Don’t look at them for more than 30 minutes after night shift.
Temperature – Have a warm shower when you get home and keep the room you will sleep in quiet, cool and dark. These two things support good sleep.

Here’s the real truth, sleep is not negotiable. If you don’t sleep then your body will complain and eventually illness will result. Use these easy to remember suggestions before, during and after your night shift to improve your sleep and eliminate sleep debt in your life. If you do, you will notice you feel happier, more energized, and you will have more enthusiasm for family, friends and those big get togethers that are pretty tough when you feel exhausted. Workers who follow these tips say they feel more like themselves, before they worked nights.

Sleep = Healthy = Happy. Got it?

The content in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend consulting with a registered health practitioner or contacting us for more tailored support.

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