Night Shift: Worker by Night, Runner by Day

No this sunrise is not what I see as I head out for a run, this is the view when I leave work.

According to US News and World Reports, 15 million Americans work the night shift. And according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, one-fifth of all Americans work in the evening, at night, or on a rotating shift. I’m one of those people. Here is the story of how I adapted to training while working night shift.

I started as a nurse about seven years ago. The first job I landed was a day-shift only position. Sure, it’s not easy to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to squeeze in a run before work, but it’s relatively normal and something most runners have to do at some point. Less than a year later, I landed a better position for my career, but one requiring me to rotate from day shift (7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.) to night shift (7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.). I was young and didn’t have a family to worry about or anything like that, so I just went along with whatever the scheduler needed.

Back then, during a ten-day span, I might switch from day shift to night shift and back to day shift. I didn’t really think about it, I just did it. One day, I might be running at 8:00 p.m. before work, and a day later, I would wake up at 4:00 a.m. to get started on a slow jog before heading into the hospital. However, over time, the switching back and forth between days and nights got really old, and I started forgetting what day it was or even what time of day I was supposed to be working. It wasn’t unusual for me to show up thinking I was supposed to work night shift, but really, I didn’t need to be there till the next morning for day shift. Some days, I felt like I didn’t know my own name.

Twelve hour shifts aren’t easy no matter when they start or what kind of work you do (just as Cinamon talked about in her latest post!). The good thing about my job, though, is you only have to do three 12-hour shifts per week. I could choose to stack all my days and night shifts in a row, so I can have off a bunch of days off afterwards. But doing that is so hard for the days you work: work, eat, sleep, repeat. Maybe during those long shift days you could run once or twice, but most people would be too exhausted. That is why I (and most others in my position it seems) choose to work a couple of days in a row, take a few days off, and so on and so forth.

Switching from day to night shift proved too challenging, so eventually I opted to only work the night shift. You might think I’m crazy, but hear me out. I’m off of work during daylight hours all year long, and I can set a schedule for myself because I’m competing with fewer coworkers for the shifts I prefer. How convenient for a marathon runner! I found a routine that some how worked for me and allowed me to train for the Boston Marathon and other races.

My first typical night-shift work-day schedule:

7:00 p.m.: Arrive at work.

7:30 a.m.: Leave work.

9:00 a.m.: Bedtime.

1:45 p.m.: Wake up, drink a little coffee, and eat a light breakfast.

2:30 p.m.: Run. A workout, an easy run, whatever.

3:30 p.m.: Shower, hydrate, snack.

4:00 p.m.: Nap time.

5:00 p.m.: Wake up, make lunch, eat dinner.

6:00 p.m.: Leave for work.

I did this for a while. A long while. I was able to get in 60-mile weeks doing this, making up for sleep on my days off, running longer on those days too. Was it healthy? Probably not. If you do the math, I was probably sleeping five to six hours per workday.

Eventually something needed to change. As I continued to work night shift, I chose to go about my running differently; no more sleep time broken up for running. I stopped doing longer or harder runs on work days, instead saving those runs for off days and opting for short and easy or no run at all on the days I worked. If I did run on a work day, I would do it after sleeping a full day’s rest, or right before going to bed after working a shift at the hospital. Running while working is extremely important to me. It energizes me, and keeps me sane. I know sleep is important, but so is my sanity. Do you feel that way, too?

My perfected typical night-shift work-day schedule:

7:00 p.m.: Arrive at work.

7:30 a.m.: Leave work.

9:00 a.m.: Bedtime.

4:00 p.m.: Wake up, drink a little coffee, and eat a light breakfast.

4:30 p.m.: Head out for a few easy miles.

5:15 p.m.: Shower, hydrate, eat.

6:00 p.m.: Leave for work.

Running isn’t easy when I’m working long overnight shifts, but it does help offset some of the other downsides of third shift. According to the Huffington Post, night shift can hurt your health is many ways, including:

  • Messing with your sleep
  • Putting you at risk for diabetes
  • Putting you at risk for weight gain
  • Raising the risk of breast cancer
  • Causing negative metabolic changes, including insulin and blood sugar changes
  • Putting you at risk for a cardiovascular event
  • Increasing the chances of workplace injury
  • Increasing the chances for depression

Running is a great way to combat all those things. It definitely helps me sleep better, de-stress, and generally feel better.

Now that I’m pregnant with our first child, I have chosen to switch and rotate shifts again, working four weeks of day shift, followed by two weeks of night shift. It is what’s best for our little family, and for my sleep schedule. I’ll be experimenting with running at different times of the day and evening, depending on my work and baby’s sleep schedule. And the end goal is that someday, I’ll land a nursing position during daylight hours! But in the meantime, I’ll make do.

Do you work night shift? How do you fit running into your chaotic life?

I am a full-time critical care nurse, who, in my spare time, loves to pound the pavement around the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. I am originally from Wisconsin, and ran for the University of Minnesota where I learned how to run smart, healthy, and happy. I enjoy writing about my adventures in running and what I have learned from racing. I hope to be an inspiration to other women to reach high!

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