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Three Tips to Help Transition into Graveyard Shifts - #THELAB

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Adapting to less sunlight can be difficult. Having a solid strategy helps you shift your "normal" life into the after-hours - here's how


The hardest thing about graveyard shifts is getting accustomed to a new routine. Having an abrupt change to your circadian rhythm can be taxing on your mental and physical health. To make it even less appealing, good luck trying to maintain the social life you had. Attempting to just "wing" it is probably not a good idea; having one day of bad sleep can really mess up the rest of your stretch.

There are quite a bit of positives about working the graveyard shifts actually. The bright sides include:

  • Evening differential

  • Less accessible resources, more opportunities for problem solving

  • Primary clinical resource for most institutions overnight

The latter two more contribute towards a unique learning experience compared to regular day shifts. I highly recommend including a couple graveyard shifts for recent residency graduates; watch your practice grow with confidence.

You cannot have a sound thought-process without taking care of yourself mentally and physically outside work. Let's review three strategies that will help your transition into graveyard shifts:

  • Come home to optimal sleeping conditions

    1. The absolute must have are blackout curtains. Set aside some time to ponder what environment you sleep best. That may be running the fan, playing white noise, certain temperatures, a clutter-free room, etc. Once you've had your idea sleep environment established, make it your consistent habit to lay everything out before heading to work..

  • Establish a routine that involves a light stroll with purpose

    1. This serves as a two-fer: contributes to your step goal and gives you an update on your patients. Light activity can be anything; just make it routine. Round around the service at certain times. Refill your water at the furthest location. Take a breath of fresh air outside. Pick a spot and do light stretches. You'll begin to notice that extra surge of energy just getting up.

  • Adjust your hobby/find a new interest with your new hours

    1. Losing a sense of yourself can easily happen when your new schedule doesn't accommodate your hobbies. If going to the gym or for a run gives you fulfillment, plan accordingly. Coffee meet ups might need to change to afternoon lunches. This can apply to any of your hobbies. Having an action plan makes it more likely for you to follow. If the new hours aren't realistic for your hobby, take the initiative in finding another one and keep your mind busy outside work. You almost lose a sense of time doing graveyard shifts; remind yourself you just need to adapt to the hours by making it "normal".

Routine, routine, routine. Just like how your regular daily schedule was with the sunlight. Identify those key areas important to you. Incorporate them into your overnight schedule consistently. Come home to an optimal sleeping environment, establish a routine with light physical activity with purpose, and adjust your hobby/find a new interest as a night-owl. Following these three tips gives you a game plan heading into your next stretch.

Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you learned something new!


Mark Nguyen, PharmD, BCEMP

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