Working the Overnight Shift
An outdoor lover's guide to surviving the night shift.
Working an overnight shift has a wide array of drawbacks, but for someone like me, one of the biggest downsides to working through the night and sleeping through the day is the limited amount of time I can find to get outdoors. Over the years I've found a few key priorities that make a big difference when trying to stay active outside.
Not every outdoor excursion needs to be a life list outing. In the past I've gotten hung up on trying to get out to trails commensurate with my outdoor experience, but every trip doesn't need to be epic. The local park down the street can be the greatest thing in the world when you're jonesing for some natural surroundings. Take some time to track down all the local and state parks near you, and check them off your list instead. You just might be surprised by the quality and diversity of experiences found within their borders.
Embrace the Night
Believe it or not, but nature doesn't close its doors once the sun goes down. If you're going to be awake in the middle of the night, you may as well embrace it and get outside anyways. You won't be alone. Nature wakes up at night as well, with all manner of nocturnal creatures coming out to play. Fire up your headlamp and hit the trail. Bike along empty roads. If you get a break at work, take a stroll outside instead of sitting in the break room. It might have the added bonus of waking you up a bit. And if nothing else, just take the time to stare up at the stars.
Listen to Your Body
Working all night can wreck havoc on your body, throwing off your internal clock and sending your metabolism and sleep schedule into full revolt. Just as it's important to listen to your body to avoid injury while out on the trail, you'll need to tune in to your body's needs and give in when you can. Sleep is obviously a top priority when you can get it. Test out different patterns to find what works for you. I tend to crash immediately after getting home, wake up for a few hours in the afternoon, then catch a few more hours of z's before heading to the office at night. If you can get a solid 8 hours even while the sun's up, then more power to you.
Eat Right and Exercise
Let's face it, you know you should be doing it anyways. But now that you're rebelling against your own body's natural desires by staying up all night, eating healthy and getting some exercise can make a world of difference when it comes to maintaining the stamina needed to stay active outside.
Find Additional Motivation
If you can't get outside under your own will power, find other ways to motivate yourself. Personally, I like to put some money on the line. I almost never get out for a run unless I've plunked down an entry fee to some ridiculous ultra marathon in the future that will require an immense amount of training. Put together a group of like minded outdoorsy types that can keep you honest about upcoming weekend plans. Peer pressure can go a long way. Or just make a habit of taking your dog for a long walk instead of just out to do its business. It'll do you both some good.
Stick to the Schedule
Once you've locked in to what works, stick to it. Deviations from the routine can sometime throw off an entire work week, especially when your sleep schedule is affected. Carve out sometime in your schedule specifically dedicated to getting outdoors and make it as much as of a priority as everything else.
Good luck out there, night shift.