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  • Writer's pictureKharissa Parker

How to Create a Healthy Routine When You Work Nights

corner of white bed with white pillow and shadow on walll

As a morning news producer, my day begins the night before. While many families are getting ready for bed, I'm heading to the station to get the first show of the day ready to air. It's not uncommon for people to turn up their noses when I tell them my hours, but it actually works well for my chronotype as a dolphin — which I've learned is pretty much an anxious wolf. (You can learn more about that here.) I started working in news almost a year ago and it's taken me nearly as long to get my schedule down in a manner that pairs well with my physical health and mental well-being. If I'm solely going off of the dolphin chronotype template, this is how my day-to-day schedule would look:

  • 7:30 pm: Wake up

  • 9 pm to 5 am: Work

  • 5 am to 11 am: Workout, enjoy the morning

  • 11 am to 12:30 pm: Relax, unwind, and prepare for bed

  • 12:30 pm to 7:30 pm: Sleep

Though this schedule works really well for me physically, going to bed so early in the afternoon and waking up when it's close to getting dark (if it's not dark already) doesn't vibe with my mental health. It just feels like I'm sleeping the day away — because I literally am — and that puts me in a real funk. After playing around a bit to figure out what works best for my body and my mind, this is what I came up with:

  • 8 pm: Wake up

  • 9 pm to 5 am: Work

  • 5 am to 6:30 am: Relax, unwind, and prepare for bed

  • 6:30 am to 1:30 pm: Sleep

  • 1:30 pm to 6 pm: Workout, enjoy the day

  • 6 pm to 8 pm: Nap

With how my schedule is set up, I'm able to get six to eight hours of sleep, enjoy some much-needed sunlight, and be around for the kids once they're out of school or catch up with friends over lunch dates and early happy hours. Sometimes, I don't even need that evening nap — but it's nice to have it penciled in just in case.

5 tips for establishing a routine

Learn about your chronotype

Learning your chronotype is a good place to start because it helps you figure out your body's natural sleep pattern. Simply put, are you naturally an early bird or are you naturally a night owl? There are four different chronotypes and, in addition to natural sleep patterns, it also influences what types of food you should eat, how your typical schedule should look, and when you're most productive. Once you know this information, you can use the recommended schedule for your chronotype as a template for getting started.

Be aware of how the sunlight (or lack thereof) impacts you

Looking at my schedule, for example, some people may do just fine with only having morning light between 5 and 11. For me, there's something about that high mid-day sun that perks me up and puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

Note your other responsibilities and values

Regardless of whether you're in the office during the day or at night, your schedule usually revolves around your work hours — but something about working nights makes this feel more intense. I think it's because people who work nights are living opposite the rest of the world. We sleep while everyone is at work and we work while everyone is sleeping. With that in mind, it's important to consider what other responsibilities are important to you. Do you have kids or a side hustle? Is there a steady appointment such as counseling or personal training sessions that needs to be maintained? Take this into consideration and fit them in where it feels best.

Keep a journal and test it out

You may not get your ideal routine figured out on the first go. Make a plan, write it down, set some alarms, and test it out. Pay attention to how many hours you sleep. Do you feel like you need more or less? Also, look at your diet and take note of how it affects your body. Do you need to eat more or less often? Are you hydrated? How do certain foods make you feel with this schedule? Energy, focus, and mood were big indicators of rather or not my routine was working and I believe those three factors are good for anyone to weigh.

  • Energy: Are you well-rested or do you feel fatigued throughout the day?

  • Focus: Are you able to concentrate on tasks and be productive or are you experiencing brain fog?

  • Mood: Are you generally happy and stable or do you feel irritated, angry, or sad for no particular reason?

Discover your boosters

Vitamins, supplements, herbs, and mindfulness practices are all part of my daily routine. These things are secondary to sleep and diet, but they help ensure I'm able to show up as my best self. I'm especially fond of vitamin D3, which is stellar for my focus and mood. If there are any boosters that help you out, keep them in stock.

If it's not working, give yourself permission to quit

Unpopular opinion, but I don't care. I've always believed that life is too short to stay in something that you 100% know for sure isn't working for you. This isn't about throwing in the towel just because things get a little hard. This is about honoring who you are and what you need. If working nights is putting a strain on your body and mind in a manner that you just can't seem to bounce back from or adjust to, then maybe it's not for you — and that's okay. You don't have anything to prove to anyone and success is irrelevant if it jeopardizes your self-care. Make a game plan to find a gig that aligns well with your biorhythm and go for it.

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