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The Night Shift: Experiences at a National Synchrotron

Posted in: Survive and Thrive
night shift

Pulling an over-nighter is a common theme for many of my college friends. I, however, like my sleep—particularly between midnight and 7 am. Therefore, I tend not to stay up late to study and avoided jobs that required me to work a night shift.

Then, I went to grad school and had to put in vampire hours to complete my experiments. Below are some tips that helped keep me awake and alert throughout my graveyard shifts in grad school.

What Kinds of Experiments Require a Night Shift?

You many think working in the lab is a day job, but there are several types of experiments that require overnight work. For example:

  • Time sensitive experiments, like dose response curves or recovery assays
  • Some experiments investigate drug responses over time and samples must be collected at pre-determined timepoints, sometimes even going late in to the night
  • Sample collection from surgery
    • Some samples, for example brains of Alzheimer’s patients, are collected in the middle of the night and processed right away. They don’t care about your beauty sleep.
  • Working at a national synchrotron (this is probably a very rare case)
    • When you are only given a certain amount of time to analyze your samples at the national synchrotron and everyone in the lab has samples to analyze, one person might be required to take the night shift (at least that was my experience!).

Graveyard Tips

Although you might not naturally be a night person, there are some tricks you can try to help keep you awake throughout your graveyard shift. The ones that work for you will depend on the work you are doing, but here are some you can try:

Maintain Your Day

  • Continue to eat healthy, well-balanced meals 3 times a day
  • Work out before the shift and stick to a routine
  • Bring plenty of healthy snacks to have on hand when you are working

During Your Graveyard Shift

  • Get up and walk around during your shift, especially if it involves a lot of sitting
  • Bring an energy drink for each over night shift and try to wait until about ½ way through the shift to drink it
    • Purchase a completely different energy drink at least once if you are working over night several days in a row
  • Bring a manuscript to work on or papers to read to help pass the time
  • Listen to music or a podcast to keep your mind alert
  • If you have down time, do mundane tasks that don’t require a lot of brain power. For example, rack tips or wash/put away dishes.
  • If there is a place to lie down during large breaks, make use of it. However, make sure an alarm will wake you up when you need to work. I would probably sleep through my alarm(s).
  • If you are nervous about walking around at late hours, use security to get you to and from your car.

Winding Down

  • Have someone pick you up from your shift if you think you will be too sleepy to drive home
  • Find a good television program to watch when your shift is over to help you relax
  • Still try to get 8 hours of sleep every day
    • However, do not go right to bed after your shift to make sure you very tired to help you sleep well

Hopefully these tips for how to survive graveyard shift(s) work for you. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions (in case I find myself doing graveyard experiments again).

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Image Credit: mac_filko

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