Working the Night Shift — Fitting in Fitness /​ Nutrition /​ Sleep

Military Nightshift

This week’s email request is from a gentleman who is working the night shift and he is preparing to join the military.  As his sleep schedule has changed so has his energy levels and desire to workout.  See request for help:

Stew,  HELP!  I am now working the night shift and need some help with when to exercise and when to eat from my normal routine.  I see my waist growing each week.  I have about six months before I join the military.

Here is a great group discussion for the Military​.com reader population who have some experience with working nights either in the military or as civilians.  My experience working nights during training was extensive but it helped by continuing to exercise, eat right, and sleep.  Here are some tips you MUST DO to help you not only stay awake during the night shift but to have energy to work, exercise, and live half a normal life on your time off.

1.  SLEEP — You have to get good at sleeping during the day.  Blacken your windows and make your room dark, quiet, comfortable.  You will be tired, but your sleeping patterns are thrown off by 8–12 hours so you have to be ready to sleep when you have time to sleep.  Have a small snack an hour prior to sleeping like cereal, big glass of milk and avoid ANY caffeine or nicotine if you can.

2.  WORKOUT — I have always found that exercise wakens me so I prefer to workout prior to going to work versus when I get off work.  Take 30–45 minutes prior to your night shift start time and exercise with weights, calisthenics, cardio then shower.  This will boost your metabolism, keep you more alert for a while, and click one of the the MUST DO’s off your list.  You will see that it is VERY tough to get started on a workout after your shift is complete and it will also make your sleep schedule harder to keep by temporarily waking you up.

3.  EAT — Make your own lunch.  Bring in healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, water, juices, sandwich and other favorite foods.  Often there is NOTHING good for you to eat at 2am no matter where you are.  Eat a meal prior to work, have a snack 3–4 hours into your night shift, and then a light meal as your last meal prior to leaving work.  You could wait until you get home for this meal.

4.  HYDRATE:   When in doubt drink water.  Often we confuse hunger with being thirsty or dehydrated so stay hydrated and it will curb your hunger.

So in a nutshell here is how a typical night shift worked for me:

0600 — get off work — go home0700 — go to sleep after a light snack of breakfast foods and sleep until 12–1400
1400 — 1800 — personal errands etc
1800 — eat dinner
1930–2100 — workout, shower, light post workout recovery meal
2200 — start work
0100 — fruit /​ vege snack /​ caffeine if needed
0300 — hydrate — meal /​ snack
0500 — hydrate and /​ or snack on nuts /​ berries
0600 — get off work go home

This schedule may or may not work for you as there are different night shifts and hours, but you can basically see what an 8 hour shift would look like when working during your normal sleep period.  Good luck with your program and KEEP TRYING TO get into a habit OR system of healthy living even though your schedule is upside down.

Any readers have suggestions?  I would love to add more options for people out there struggling with this routine.



  1. eric says:

    what about a 12 hour shift 1800 to 0600?

  2. Daniel says:

    I really enjoy reading fitness tips on your network.
    They say \’\‘Practise makes perfect\’\’.
    Always keep on practising.
    Thank you.

  3. SPC WALTON says:

    Ive been working 1800 to 0600 for a long time and am in great shape. You MUST get good sleep like using a fan and a dark room. Youll only need 5 or 6 hours. Its easy to fall into the trap of energy drinks on this shift, dont do it. A couple of hours before you get done try a meal replacement shake followed by water or you will clean out your fridge when you get home. Workout before work but do your hardest stuff on your days off. If youre preparing for basic, dont worry youll adjust realll fast because you dont have a choice. Good Luck.

  4. Michael says:

    I work a 4 on 4 off 12 hour work schedule. 7 pm to 7 am. Like Stew said, I make sure to pack my lunch full of fruits and veggies. I also try to run during my 1 am break and/​or do calisthenics on my 4 am break. That seems to keep me awake for the rest of the night and with plenty of energy to complete my work day. I also make sure I get plenty of sleep right as soon as I get home. At least 7 hours. Good luck, I know how hard it is to try and keep in good shape when you feel tired from the night shift.

  5. Joshua says:

    I need your help! I have a ton of problems. Gaining wait. I\‘m 6\‘1 165ish. I was a star athlete until didn\‘t make it into collage so working out slowed down then stopped. And to top it all off I work a crazy evening to early am latest 4. Driving me crazy trying to find a great way to prepare myself for the military. I just bought the rack workout and its a 12 week program. Will this help?

    • Stew Smith says:

      Well — you have to mix in many things to gain weight. The most important thing is food — you have to eat to gain weight. And with crazy schedules /​ messed up sleep patterns it will be tougher to gain weight — unless you are eating more while awake more. In the end though that is not the healthy way to go.

      See weight Gain articles and food plan at http://​www​.stewsmithptclub​.com/​w​e​i​g​h​t​g​a​i​n​.​pdf for some ideas but you need to lift, eat, sleep, eat some more.

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Stew Smith

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you are interested in starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle - check out the Stew Smith article archive at To contact Stew with your comments and questions, e-mail him at

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