Shift Work and Zombies: How To Not Be The Walking Dead

If you’re working a job that involves working nights, you understand the toll it takes on both your body and social life. Shifting back and forth between days and nights is not an easy task, you’re constantly throwing off your circadian rhythm and your hormones along with it.

You know the feeling, after working 4 nights in a row you’ve finally gotten used to heading home and falling asleep at 9AM, but you don’t work tonight and need to switch back to a “normal” schedule. It’s your turn to pick up the kids and run them back and forth across town to all of their classes and practices, not to mention there are groceries that need to be purchased and dinner that needs to be cooked. Better make run to Starbucks for a venti coffee, the first of many you’ll need to survive the day. By 3PM you’re struggling to stay awake, you hate everything and just wish you could close your eyes for 30 minutes. You’re going through the motions, but you aren’t really there, “this is how the zombie apocalypse begins,” you think, “I am patient zero.”

Shift work can wreak havoc on your quality of life, but it doesn’t have to. Here are a few tips to help give you energy and focus when you need to stay awake, and calm and relax you when you need to sleep.

Wake up! Don’t rely on just coffee, it stresses your adrenals and to continue to feel its effects, you have to drink more and more of it. The continued production of cortisol is robbing you of the building blocks you need to produce androgens and is destroying your sleep quality. Drinking coffee in moderation is wonderful for your health and can help improve focus, but too much of it becomes toxic for the body.

Instead opt for something that increases dopamine and/or acetylcholine such as Growth Factor from ATP Labs or Lion’s Mane Mushroom Elixir from Four Sigmatic. Growth Factor is packed with tyrosine, acetyl-l-carnitine, and alpha-GPC, all of which help to improve drive and focus. Tyrosine is the precursor to dopamine, the “reward” neurotransmitter, known to improve drive and focus; acetyl-l-carnitine has been shown to improve cognitive function, increase testosterone, and improve insulin sensitivity. Alpha-GPC has been shown to improve memory, mode, and increase power output. They all do much more than what’s listed, but I’m trying to keep this relatively short.

Lion’s Mane, a fungus, has become one of my favorite supplements and has practically replaced coffee for me. Since I’ve started drinking this, I stay more focused, am in a better mood, and am far more productive with my time. It too also increases dopamine levels, may help to decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and helps to boost the immune system. What’s really cool about Lion’s Mane is that it helps to stimulate the growth and repair of nerve cells, so it essentially helps to repair your brain!

Another supplement that is often overlooked for sleep deprivation and is very cheap is creatine. As little as 5-10 grams in a one-time dose will help to improve performance!

Time to relax. Getting your body to calm down and sleep when it’s not used to is where things really get difficult. You can force your body to stay awake, but it seems the more you try to fall asleep the harder it is to do. To fall asleep, we’re going to use a combination of supplements, nutrient timing, and a lifestyle habit.

Magnesium would be one of the first supplements I would implement into a sleep protocol or any general health protocol for that matter, two of my favorites are Yin Reserve by Strength Sensei Nutraceuticals and Magnesium Essentials by Poliquin Group. Magnesium is a huge multitasker being involved in over 350 enzymatic reactions in the body. It helps with detoxification, improves insulin sensitivity, can help with depression, improves brain function, can increase testosterone, is necessary for the production of ATP, and the reason you’re taking it before bed is it helps to relax the nervous system and improves sleep. This list goes on and on because magnesium helps with just about everything and you should be taking it. Just be sure you’re taking quality forms of it like you’ll find in Yin Reserve and Magnesium Essentials.

Four Sigmatic has another wonderful product, Reishi Mushroom Elixir, that I love to drink in the evening after a long day at work. Reishi is great because it helps to lower cortisol and boost your immune system, perfect for the winter months. I also like that it’s something that I it’s something that I get to sip on at night rather than taking more pills. It works best for me when I drink it a few hours before bed, but I recommend you experiment with different times to find what works best for you. If you find it particularly hard to fall asleep you may want more than a single dose.

A meal with carbohydrates also helps to lower cortisol as well as stimulate the production of serotonin, the relaxation neurotransmitter. People always think it’s the turkey on Thanksgiving that makes them sleepy, it’s not, it’s the massive amount of carbohydrates you just ate. If you want to relax eat a meal that’s higher in carbs, just make sure they’re not junk.

The last thing on this list seems to be the hardest thing for people to do but may actually have the greatest impact on inducing and improving sleep. NO SCREEN TIME IN THE 2 HOURS PRIOR TO BED. That’s right, no TV, no tablet, no computer, no phone, and definitely no social media. Your body is light sensitive and the blue light from these devices decrease your body’s production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Blue light filters help, but how do you expect to fall asleep at night with all that stimulus anyways? Give your body time to wind down, start dimming the lights in your house, use blackout curtains, and maybe read a book. Turn those screens off and sleep like the dead.

Now you don’t have to work nights to implement these strategies, anyone who wants to sleep better at night and be more productive during the day will benefit. Sure, you may have to spend a bit of money on a few supplements, but you’ll be much more productive, and the supplements will pay for themselves. The supplements for drive and focus are also great for pre-workout, although I do recommend you take them immediately upon waking. If you do work nights and are tired of feeling like a zombie try some of strategies above for a month or two and let me know what you think!