How to Survive Rotating Shift Work

I served six years in the Air Force, where I was a Command Post Controller. The Command Post is the communications hub of the entire base. Basically, first responders report their information to us and we filter it for the Commander. Like other first responders, such as security forces, airfield operations, medical, and fire department, our shop was open 24/7/365. Holidays, nights, weekends, you name it, someone was there.

I met my husband, and several best friends, in a Command Post. It’s hard not to create a family out of the people you have to be in a small, confined space with for 12 hours a day, several days a week. We all had to learn how to deal with rotating shifts, how to miss family gatherings, and how to not lose our sanity. If you’re one of the chosen few to have a job with shift work, here are some tips to help:

Prepare

When you have to be to work by 6 a.m., there’s not a lot of prep time in the morning. Set up your uniforms, food, and anything else you need for your shift in the same spot every day.

The Golden Rule

Remember when your parents taught you “treat others the way you’d like to be treated?” They were talking about your future shift work job. You hate when your coworkers stroll into work 15 minutes late, right? Unlike a “normal” job where you can leave when the day is over, shift workers have to stay until they are replaced. Show up on time, ready to take over.

Health

There are so many side effects of working shift work, especially rotating shift work. Your body is engrained with a clock that knows when it should sleep, wake up, eat, and go back to sleep. By working all hours of the day, you throw the clock off of its natural rhythm. Use these simple tips to stay healthy:

  • Avoid fake sugar, especially energy drinks. If you get tired, pump out some pushups.
  • Eat as healthy as you can, your body needs every bit of nutrients it can get.
  • If you work indoors, get fresh air when you can.
  • If you work at a computer, let your eyes rest often, practice good posture, and don’t sit down for the entire shift.

Sleep

I couldn’t survive shift work without my sleeping rituals. After a night shift, I would get home, watch something on the DVR and have a light breakfast. Then, I’d get my bedroom nice and cold, close the blackout shades, insert earplugs, and put on my sleep mask.

I used to work a rotating schedule that consisted of two 12-hour day shifts followed by two 12-hour night shifts, then four days off. Management called it four days off, but we all knew it was a little more than three and a half, which is a big deal to a shift worker.

Routine

I always stressed to new coworkers to not do anything on your days “on.” These days were meant for working and sleeping. Don’t run any errands, don’t make plans with friends, avoid doing laundry if you can. Then, on your first day off, when you get off at 7 a.m., you can do some very low-key activities. The plan is to get your body back on schedule so you can wake up for your next day shifts. So, do house chores, laundry, and just relax.

The next three days you can do whatever you want. Go on a short trip, binge watch Netflix or run a marathon. These days are your new “weekend”. It’s nice because the usual busy mall is now empty on Wednesday afternoon, you avoid most traffic, and you have a three-day weekend every weekend.

I didn’t mind rotating shifts too much, because your days on went by very fast. By the time it was your second 12-hour day shift, you were rotating to night shift and didn’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. Then, before you knew it, it was your second night shift and you met a three-day weekend!

Again, these tips are primarily focused on rotating shift work. Working all days or all nights has their own challenges. Find what methods work for you, but keep your health as a top priority.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Emily Ruch

Emily Ruch was born in Minnesota and raised in central California before joining the Air Force at the age of 17. While serving in the Air Force, Emily worked in the Base Command Post specializing in Emergency Management. She didn’t travel the world as expected, but spent time in west Texas, Washington D.C., plus a short deployment in Southeast Asia. Instead of traveling, Emily spent most of her time on education, cultivating friendships with coworkers, and enjoying her surroundings. She was lucky enough to meet her husband of seven years while serving in Texas. Emily left the service after six years and began working as a correspondence coordinator for the Department of Energy. Now she is a stay-at-home-mom with her 10-month-old son and three dogs.
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