Dealing With Graves and Life on Days Off

I know a lot of people have issues with working a graves/overnight shift and then trying to have a functional life on the days off, so I thought this thread could be a collection of ways we all deal with this, as well as possible medical research on the same.

Consistency seems to be important with this. A good friend of mine worked for an agency that would rotate days/nights on something like a 6 week schedule. It was brutal for those guys. On the flip side, a lot of guys seem to need a break from working nights because after 6 months or so, their ability to sleep during the day starts to fade.

My main concern is helping guys deal with the health issues related to working nights, both in terms of staying safe on shift, as well as long-term health, as there has been a lot of research showing how damaging night shift is to your body. I, and a lot of the other guys I work with, are on graves partially because it gives us the best family time, but I don't want to sacrifice years of family time with an early death or disabling health condition. My dad is pushing 80 and still able to get out and go hunting, work on the house, etc. and I'm trying hard not to end up like my childhood neighbor who spent almost 30 years on the job, and moves like someone 20 years older than he is.

I'm 39 and have been working graves for about six months on a 4x10hr shift schedule. I'm most likely going to be doing the same for another five months, unless I get moved to another shift.

On my work days, I get around 6 hours of sleep during the day, and try to get in a workout right before I go to work. When I get off, I try to go straight home, and straight to bed.

On my Friday, I get off around 8am and will usually try to stay up all day. This gives me a decent amount of family time and helps me get up at a reasonable time for my second day off. On my third day I'll try to sleep in as late as I can, then stay up until around 4am. I try to get a full 8 hours of sleep, spend a few house with the family, then head off to work at night.

It took a few weeks to get used to staying up during the day after my last work day, but like the intermittent fasting thing, once I got into it, it got easier. Caffeine helps. So does making that my weekly range trip day.

As far as the shift itself, my Sgt. is fine with us coming in to take a short nap, as proposed in some of the recent FSRC emails. The only limitations are no napping in the cars (for obvious reasons) even in what might look to be "safe" places, and no abusing the informal nap policy. Again, caffeine, but I cut it off around 3am so it doesn't mess with getting to sleep.

On the tracking side of things, I think I might pony up for an HRV program, and try to get to the doc a few times a year for bloodwork and general monitoring to see how my body is doing and make sure I'm not just getting used to being in a shitty state.

So, what have you tried or seen that's worked, failed, worked temporarily, etc?
My previous schedule was based on a two week rotation, 12-hour shifts (7 to 7), rotating between days and nights every six weeks:
Week 1: Mon-Tues, ON, Wed-Thurs, OFF, Fri-Sat-Sun, ON
Week 2: Mon-Tues, OFF, Wed-Thurs, ON, Fri-Sat-Sun, OFF

On a work day, I would get off at 0700 and try to be asleep by 0800. I'd typically sleep until 1400-1500 then get a workout in and grab something to eat. I would always get a cup of coffee on the way to work around 1830. I usually would not drink any more coffee during the remainder of the shift unless I was really dragging.

On my Fridays, I would get off at 0700 and go to sleep around 0800-0900. I would wake up around 1200-1300 then go to bed around 2100-2200. The next day I would wake up at 0700-0800 and have a normal schedule. The day I went back to work I would wake up at 0700-0800, workout around noon, then take a 2-3 hour nap, waking up at 1700. I would then eat and go back to work.

That worked for me. I never got too tired at work and was fairly energized on my days off. I worked that schedule for the last 3 1/2 years and I'm in my early-30's.

One thing that was important to me was to have a very dark room when sleeping during the day. If it was too bright I would not sleep well.

A couple times, I tried staying awake all day on days off that fell after a work night but I couldn't do it. I would be good until 1300-1400 and then crash, even after drinking a ton of coffee.
I worked overnights for about 18 months. 2300-0700, 4 days on, 2 off.
Like others posted, I would try to workout every day before work. After shift I would come right home, make breakfast for my family and then go to bed.
We have a 1 story house with 2 kids under 5, so noise was an issue. I used either an air conditioner or a sound machine and that worked very well.
On days when I didn't think that I was going to be able to sleep, I took melatonin. I'm obviously not a doctor, but I highly recommend it. It definitely helped me fall asleep, and I didn't wake up groggy.
The best trick I found was to keep my phone out of the room. Sleeping during the day, you tend to wake up more times during your sleep cycle, and if your phone is right there it's tempting to check it. I had my wife keep my phone and she'd let me know if I got a SWAT call out, etc. When she left the house, she'd put it on her dresser, far away from the bed.
Also, when you first wake up, drink a ton of water. I would push hydration early, knowing how easy it is to finish a shift and realize that you hadn't drank anything. The last thing I wanted to do was hydrate right before I went to sleep.
Been working graves about 13 years with a break here and there. I'll be here another 5-7 depending on how long my dog works.

I work 4x10 as K9, off at 5am. I try to be in bed by 6-6:30am. I need a little time to unwind. Unfortunatelt I rarely sleep past 1300. My body wants to sleep but my mind is ready to run.

The key is working out in my opinion. It's the only way to survive this. The guys that don't prioritize fitness and work graves long term look like shit and quickly.

On days off I shift back a couple hours but don't completely flip. I'll stay up until 1-3am and wake up without an alarm, whenever that may be.

The one thing I have yet to figure out is my phones. I have a personal Android phone and a worn iPhone. Sometimes I get called out for K9 or SWAT on one phone and sometimes on the other. I can't seem to figure out the do not disturb feature on either phone in a way that lets me sleep thru people dialing the wrong number or trying to sell shit while letting the calls to come in service come thru.
The one thing I have yet to figure out is my phones. I have a personal Android phone and a worn iPhone. Sometimes I get called out for K9 or SWAT on one phone and sometimes on the other. I can't seem to figure out the do not disturb feature on either phone in a way that lets me sleep thru people dialing the wrong number or trying to sell shit while letting the calls to come in service come thru.
I would have a policy set up where they are to contact you though dispatch, if possible. iPhone has a setting where you can set a contact to "emergency bypass" so it will ring even when the phone is silenced. The option is right above where you pick the ringtone. I don't know if android has this option, but it's worth a look.
I ordered the Bioforce HRV setup from 8 Weeks Out. Going to try to see how I'm doing physically, using this thing as a tracking tool. I've heard a lot of good things about it from guys with long term training histories.
Been working graves about 13 years with a break here and there. I'll be here another 5-7 depending on how long my dog works.

I work 4x10 as K9, off at 5am. I try to be in bed by 6-6:30am. I need a little time to unwind. Unfortunatelt I rarely sleep past 1300. My body wants to sleep but my mind is ready to run.

The key is working out in my opinion. It's the only way to survive this. The guys that don't prioritize fitness and work graves long term look like shit and quickly.

On days off I shift back a couple hours but don't completely flip. I'll stay up until 1-3am and wake up without an alarm, whenever that may be.

The one thing I have yet to figure out is my phones. I have a personal Android phone and a worn iPhone. Sometimes I get called out for K9 or SWAT on one phone and sometimes on the other. I can't seem to figure out the do not disturb feature on either phone in a way that lets me sleep thru people dialing the wrong number or trying to sell shit while letting the calls to come in service come thru.
At least on the iphone you can turn on the "do not disturb" feature (looks like a moon if you swipe up) this blocks everything including text notifications. Go into settings->do not disturb->allow calls from->favorites. Then add the contact that calls you for swat/k9 and whoever else you want to get calls from. This way with DND on only the contacts on your favorites list will ring through. As far as android I have no idea..

Regarding the OP, we work 10's on set hours, but the days are kind of funky. We have 28 day cycles and in a standard cycle with no holidays we get 12 days off, we pick what days off we want so you can have 12 days off in a row if you want or break them up however. I try and work the same days every week so my body an adjust somewhat. On a typical work day I'll drink a coffee on the way in around 2000 and then just water the rest of the shift, I found any caffeine past 0000 really messes with my sleep.

We ride 2 man squads which is nice so if one is tired they can ride and nap, typically there isn't much going on past 0300 except alarm calls and random stuff, especially in the winter. I found I feel much better after a 20-30 min nap than any coffee or monster. The weird thing is I wake up at 1300 every day to pee no matter what I try (melatonin was a weird adventure). After that I'm usually up for the day. On my Friday (which is usually Saturday) I usually try to get up around noon and then go to sleep whenever my better half does. Then I keep normal hours until Wed which is typically my Monday.
I've been nights for as long as I can remember and I've always preferred it. The thing changing that lately is family. I work 12s and I'm essentially working 7 days on, 7 days off. I take a nap after work on my "Friday" and then go as a daywalker until a night or two before work, where I transition back a little slower. I've never used nights as an excuse to eat poorly, sleep poorly, skip workouts, or otherwise let my quality of life suffer. The only thing it's really affected is being able to see friends who work days
I'm an FF and work a 24/48 schedule with a 3 week R day. I'm very fortunate in that have those two days to equalize. I work at a busy station with an average call volume of around 10 calls per shift, typically three or more after midnight. Our shifts run 0800 to 0800 but you typically show up at 0700 and are hopefully relieved by 0700 the next morning.

I play things by ear and some times I don't take a nap but if it's a busy night (most are) I've found the best thing for my self is to come straight home, make a good breakfast and then crash. I eat and then go lay down in bed with the room as dark as I can get it, turn on the TV to my favorite brainless tv show (I need some background noise to relax) and set the self timer to shut it off in one hour so it doesn't fuck with my R.E.M. sleep. I don't set an alarm and typically sleep from around 9 until whenever I wake, usually around 1400.

My girlfriend works a typical 9-5 schedule so I'm alone in the house from the time I lay down until well after I wake.

I'm religious with my gym routine, I work out 3-5 days a week on a powerlifting/strength and conditioning program. My first day off after I wake I make lunch and go to the gym then come home and make dinner. I'm usually up until about 0100 or 0200. I never set an alarm on an off day (unless I have somewhere to be) and typically sleep until around 0800 to 0900 and then start my day. On my R week I follow the same routine with not setting an alarm unless I have to.

I'm a big believer in listening to your body, especially in this type of work. Eat when you're hungry, drink when you're thirsty, sleep when you're tired.

I'm fortunate in they currently, I pretty much live a bachelor life style, if I had a family I don't know what I would do, as I have days where I come home in the morning and it feels like someone tore my soul out I'm so tired. I fairly regularly come home and sleep the whole day, wake up, eat dinner and hang with the old lady and then go back to bed.

EDIT: I will agree with a previous poster in that I think one of the most important things about working a job like LE, Fire, Mil etc. is working out, sleeping when you're tired and eating a good diet, and honestly as hard as it is, staying away from alcohol. We have guys on the job that have been here for 20+ years at busy stations and live a party lifestyle outside work, they're in their 40's and 50's but they look like their in their 60's and 70's. I've worked with a few people where I was literally worried they may die on shift, they looked like the walking dead.

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I'm working graves right now. We are on 12 hour shifts and to top it off, I have a one hour commute to and from my duty station on top of my 12 hour shift. I work 1800 to 0600 so I'm usually home at the end of a shift by 0700 to 0730 depending on how long it takes me to do my watch commander logs and other associated end of shift paperwork. I'm usually up for about an hour after I get home (I just can't go right to bed). I'll typically wake up at 1345 to 1400, make breakfast, prepare my meals for work and hit the gym at 1500. I'm home by 1615 or so, change and head in to work. I hate my shift, and duty station but it is what it is for now. Next rotation, I'm thinking of taking the Sergeant position in our court house security division as it gets me back on days, and cuts my commute down to 10-15 min. The down side to this is it's five eight hour shifts, and incredibly boring.

Pat Tarrant

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I did rotating Panama schedule for a little over 5 years, with either a 4 or 6 week day/night shift rotation. My best plan was to do as little shifting as possible during my days off. On work days, I'd generally go to bed around 7:30-8:00am and be up around 2:30pm. On my days off, I'd try to go to be around 6am and get up around noon or a little after to maximize family time and time to do things like grocery shopping.

It helped very much that we live in a 3 level townhouse. In the basement, I have some workout gear, a treadmill, tv/blu-ray, and my computer for work / school / workout / entertainment on the nights I had off and the family was asleep. On days I worked, I had blackout curtains and often slept with an eye mask. I didn't get nearly as good sleep during the day, but it was enough to keep me functional, and I'd occasionally go to bed really early and sleep extra late to catch up a bit.

The killer was going on weekend trips to see family when on nights. I never had difficulty adjusting to night shift like I had adjusting to days. Trying to do a quick turn rotation for family trips made things really difficult.

Now, I'm working a fairly standard 5-day work week, doing 7-3ish monday through friday. I've found my quality time with family has actually gone down quite a bit from my shift work days. I also seem to have less time to do things, even though I work less hours, and my commute is a fraction of what it was. However, I do feel slightly healthier, have a little more energy on a daily basis, and almost definitely eat better.
Some people can easily adjust to nights. Most people cannot. I’m a natural nightfighter, and always have been.

I have worked 11-7 by choice since August of 1977.

I'm single so I don't have to worry about kids or a wife waking me up in the middle of the day. The phone with the answering machine is in the living room.

I have thick black out curtains on the windows of my bedroom. And a ceiling fan to provide white noise and some ventilation. I sleep best in a cold environment, so I keep the A/C turned on in the summer and the heat turned down low in the winter.

I usually go to sleep between 8 and 9 in the morning and get up about 5 in the afternoon.

I like the midnight shift because it leaves my evenings free, and I can do whatever I want before work, as long as it doesn't involve consuming alcohol.

As far as caffeine goes, I usually try to fire up about two hours before shift, or have a big cup of coffee in briefing, and then try to avoid any heavy caffeine the rest of the shift. No caffeine the last 4 or 5 hours of the tour unless I'm desperate.

I usually drink tea at home, coffee in the PD and iced green tea (no sugar) on the road.

Sometimes I take half a generic Tylenol PM before sleeping. It usually works pretty well but not always.

I have experimented with melatonin at different doses at different times over the years but it didn't seem to have any particular effect for me.

Most noise doesn't bother me when sleeping. The neighbor kids can play right under my bedroom window and I sleep right through it. Same with lawnmowers or snow plows.

I used to have problem staying asleep in the summer when the sun is really bright -- I would wake up at about 1pm and have difficulty getting back to sleep. That isn’t a problem since I moved into Dad’s old house because he had worked nights for years and had blackout curtains in the bedroom. That room stays DARK.

On my first day off, I usually go to bed about 9am and then wake up by 2pm. I can then (usually) go back to sleep again about midnight. (My understanding is, if you stay up too much after 11pm your body thinks you’re going to be awake all night and releases cortisol to keep you awake)

Often if I go to bed early (9pm or so) I wake up again about 3:30 and then can’t get back to sleep until 8 or 9 in the morning. Which sucks if the plan of the day involves working a day shift (which I try to avoid) or attending a class or a pistol match or a training event, because I tend to start getting fogged in about noon.

On my first day back I don't have any fixed routine -- I have tried but found nothing that worked particularly well other than a short nap in late afternoon before going to work.

My dad worked the midnight shift as a mechanical supervisor for many years. He is NOT a natural “night person” but he was very disciplined in his sleep pattern and he made it work for about 25 years. On his first day off (Friday), he’d go to bed at 8am and get up shortly after noon and then be up and able to sleep at night for the next few nights. On his first day back (Sunday) he’d get up about 5am and be up until about 2pm, and then he’d go to sleep until about 6pm and then wake up and have dinner and then go in to work at 10. That worked for him for a long time.

I know lots of guys who stay up all day on their first day off (like go 24+ hours awake) I have almost never done that unless I had training or OT or court or something during the day that precluded my going to sleep.

I can still go in at 3pm and work a double shift pretty well, but now that I'm closing on 60 I can't work all night and then work all day anymore.

One thing I have learned is that I ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT eat after work before going to sleep.

I put on weight if I even THINK about doing that. And now that I'm old, I get heartburn if I eat and then try to sleep.

I usually have a protein shake when I get home, and then go to sleep.

For me, having the room really dark isn't essential. It just has to be shadowy. Temperature seems to be a bigger factor. But, the darker the better.

But everybody has different experiences, and your preferences will probably change over time

Some people can easily adjust to nights. Most people cannot. Whether or not you can adjust to working nights is something that people should think through when considering law enforcement or any other career that operates on a 24/7 schedule.

I always thought that was something that should be considered during the selection process for any job involving non-traditional hours – has the applicant ever worked a job where they worked evenings or nights, and weekends and holidays?


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My personal experience with graveyard shift has been that the biggest thing for me is having a consistent schedule. Had one job that you could usually set your watch to when I could be in bed by, and I could adjust as needed for days off once I got home. It was also a 4 day work week with rotating days off during the week and my weekends off. Not that bad really. Had one this past year with a wildly rotating work day shift, and shifts that depending on how badly management screwed up the schedule you were looking at usually 2-4 days a week where you were going to get stuck going for someone for anywhere from 2-8 hour after your original shift ended, and even if you were going to be covering for a guy running 10 minutes late you were getting stuck there for 2 hours because they had to pay you two hours so there you were. With no warning, and sometimes not knowing until you were getting ready to leave. That ended up with at least a third of the shift looking like zombies during most of the week because, at least in my case, I had an hour, sometimes more, commute home depending on traffic, so my sleep cycle was anywhere from 3-8 hours and I didn't know what it would be until I actually got out of the parking lot. The first job I could have done for a lot longer than I did, the second one, I found something else that wasn't fly by night in a hurry. My parents also worked shift work for years, and for them it just came down to knowing when they needed to sleep, and in some cases, a nap before going to work. Can't give a huge amount of detail on them and how they managed it since I don't have them here, but they had one week on 1st, one on 2nd, and then one on 3rd, constant rotation and made it work for a couple decades.

My advice if you are going to be working graveyard, or really anything, is find out how regular the shift is going to be. If you can more of less set your watch to the schedule, then you can find a way to adapt, I am a night owl, but I can run a 9-5 or 8-4 job without issue. One that has your hours all over the place, at least in my case, it ends up with me in a bad place and mentally and physically exhausted. Humans are creatures of habit after all, or at least that is what the saying is that I hear.


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There are some great tips on here. I'm back on nights now, we do 3 months on days, 3 months on nights and 10 hour shifts. For me the means working 1900-0500 with 5 on, 5 off, 5 on 4 off.

I started working out after work and that has been very helpful for me. I'll take me pre-workout in the locker room after shift so it hits by the time I get to the gym. I eat a full meal after the gym along with my protein shake. The workout after my shift has really helped with my sleep during the day. I go back tomorrow night, I'll likely force myself to stay up until 3AM then sleep as late as I can to get switched over.

I keep my bedroom cool and dark, like a cave. I have blackout curtains and even with direct sunlight outside my room is really dark. I have my iPhone's Do Not Disturb set so that it is off 30 minutes after my alarm. My Sgt and squad are on my list of favorites so they can get through, just in case. I am usually in bed by 8:30 or 9 and my alarm goes off at 1630. I find consistency during my work week is key, even if I end up working late.

I become a day-walker on days off. Usually a 4 hour "nap" after the gym on my first day off to get me back on a more normal schedule. At my old agency at worked 3 on, 3 off and 12 hour shifts, there were some guys who just stayed on a night schedule even on days off. I couldn't do that.
I'm not LE but I work rotating 12 hour shifts at a chemical plant on what's called the DuPont or 4/3 short schedule. I swap from days to nights every week and my hours are 0615-1845 or 1815-0645 depending on the day.

The days that I start nights, I sleep normally (2200/2300-0615) the night before and get everything done by noon or so then lay down from 1300-1630. This gives me time to get one good sleep cycle in before getting up and getting ready to go to work. The mornings I work off of midnights I usually go to bed at normal time(0800 or so) but set my alarm for 1130, again to allow for one regular sleep cycle before getting up, going to the gym and starting my day. I usually fast until dinner time that night so my body is under as little stress as possible while it's making the transition from nights to days and I try to be outside for at least a half hour to help reset my body clock. I work out every other day and when I'm on nights, I go to the gym in the mornings after work. I keep my gym sessions to an hour so I can be in bed by 0900 and keep my weights at about 60% of my 1RM on the big lifts because my CNS is already stressed enough.

My bedroom is blacked out, I use a CPAP and I usually have two fans running to keep my bedroom cool. I also use Bluetooth earbuds or headphones to listen to calming music while I'm falling asleep and to help block any ambient noise. My wife works normal business hours and both of my kids are in school so I have the house to myself most of the time I'm on nights. They all know my schedule and are really good about respecting my need for sleep.

-Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. If it stops working don't be afraid to try something new.
-Prioritize your sleep, it's really easy to give up an hour here and there to get something done, but eventually it will catch up with you.
- Work out when you can and do what you can. I use a non-stim preworkout in the mornings and alter my workouts as needed depending on how I feel and for time.
- Make sure that whoever you live with(roommate, spouse, kids, etc.) understand that your sleep is important and they need to be respectful of it. That means not scheduling errands, appointments, etc. at times that interfere with your sleep.
- Don't be afraid to use supplements to help get thru it but don't use them to replace sleep. Caffeine, 5 hr energy, energy drinks, non-stim preworkout, melatonin, etc. can all help depending on your circumstances, but there's no substitution for sleep.