Night shift working and training

Hi all

Been a TR user for about 8 months now, and a keen cyclist for 3.5 years. I’ve worked shifts most of my life, Currently doing 3 x 12hr shifts per week, Fri-Sun days one week and nights the next.

Gradually over the last couple of years I’ve noticed a bigger struggle coping with the nights, and at present I’m considering a possible change of career path when I get made redundant in the next 6 months or so, trouble is, as a maintenance engineer the shifts come with the job!

Before cycling I was very sedentary and my weight had crept up to 100kgs, at which point I decided to try and get fit and the cycling proved a perfect way to do this, I’m now 42, 80kgs and have a 315w ftp. I’m probably in the best shape of my adult life but at times I’m struggling to function in my work, specifically the worst issue seems to be waking mid morning and failing to then fall back to sleep, which leads to bad sleep deprivation.

Since I improved my quality of life and got much fitter I have been naturally falling asleep earlier and rising earlier, my circadian rythym seems to have me waking comfortably at 7am after going to bed at 9-10pm, it’s when night shifts come along that the problems start. I have a theory that I’ve almost caused myself this issue by being healthier, fitter and sleeping better on my days off, and that my body is now struggling to adapt to the changes it faces when on shift.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has experienced anything similar or has any suggestions about how best to structure my training, the issue persists regardless if I’m doing 3.5hrs a week indoors or adding more rides outdoors on bigger riding weeks.

I structure my rides for a Mon, Tues and Thurs with nothing on my work days, as I can’t face riding after a 12hr day which can be quite physical at times. I don’t feel my training is excessive or affecting my work as such.

(Other point to note is that I also have a chronic testosterone deficiency (managed through regular injections by a doctor) and whilst I have been brought into what is the “normal” range here in the uk, my levels are still at the bottom end of the scale. My doctor said this condition shouldn’t affect my ability to work in the job I do)

Hi
I worked shifts for 30 years. 12hr weekends. When i first started shifts , i started waking earlier and earlier too. I eventually tried the following.

  1. Dark out room , blackout blind + Blackout curtain, Room very dark.
  2. Small snack before going to bed, no big breakfast…
    3 Stopped drinking coffee on shift, Only cups of water.
  3. ear plugs:- No Mobile phone, unplug house phone. Closed bedroom door. Getting rid of most noise. Also placed notice on house door so no one would ring door bell.
  4. Small dose of night nurse… I mean x1 teaspoon… it contains paracetamol. also take before cleaning your teeth… it tastes arrgh.
  5. I always the day of starting my first night shift, do a small training session and go to bed for at least 3 hours early afternoon. I did the same routine (no night nurse) ear plugs etc.

After last night shift:- No Night nurse. I used to get up at 13:00hrs (Went to be 08:30) , have breakfast. Then Do training session to re kick my body back to day time hours.

This routine i stuck with for all my shift working life. Never changed it. My Body seemed to like the routine that worked for me, It may be slightly different for you.

The other thing is what i ate on Nightshift was the exact same as i would do on a dayshift. I Would have soup for my lunch and for dinner, i had made up sandwiches of chicken and salad. Nothing spicy.

I know other guys of shift that can not sleep but when i asked them what routine have they tried, most of them allow life to interupt the routine. My partner, she undestood if i did not get proper sleep, my emotions / Body chemistry was all over the place. I was a grumpy sod.

PS. I retired last October. … God i do not Miss Nightshift weekend working. Hope you can get a routine sorted and Glad to hear your good health story with the Bike :slight_smile:

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I used to frequently do irregular night shifts. Do not miss it at all. See if you can get assigned the always day or always night if possible or even a day/afternoon/night type rotation would be better.

Here are my suggestions: a) start changing your sleep during your off days, ie go to bed 1 hour earlier (or later) each day to get ready for the shift change. You may be able to get a prescription for melatonin from your doctor to help.
b) all the sleep hygiene items above.
c) don’t bother training the day before or of a night shift, unless your job is sedentary (in which case, a short easy workout will aid sleeping). I would train mon-thurs, hard, easy, hard, easy on day shift weeks on your schedule

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40 years old, worked 4x11 hour night shifts a week for 10 years.

I was weight lifting 4-5 days a week during those years with almost no cardio so slightly different.

Lucky if I slept an average of 4 hours of crappy sleep during the week.

I could go into it in detail if you like but suffice to say I eventually broke down, first in body then in mind😅

I tip my bonnet to you for managing cycling training for 3.5 years of nighshift!

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Probably not entirely comparable with your situation but I’ve worked irregular office based shifts for nearly a decade now with “ideal” runs of DDNS–DDNS, or a typical week of two days of 7 am to 7.30 pm, then a night of 7 pm to 7.30 am with no sleep that night, a sleep day followed by two off before repeating. However, given the vagaries of leave/special requests, its rarely that predictable and to be honest makes planning training a nightmare!

I find my difficulties with shift work are eating sufficient to fuel my workouts but not bingeing while in work, but mainly its the irregular sleep patterns. I struggle to work multiple night shifts as I often fail to sleep more than two/three hours after a night, as my body seems to reject being asleep in daylight hours (even in a dark room!). It’s also become a self fulfilling fear now when I have to do it as the worry is enough to keep me awake, a hard cycle to break.

Over the last few years, I’ve tried many approaches and looked for an answer to training round shifts and most of best advice about dealing with them revolves setting routines around your shift runs so it sounds like you’ve already got that pencilled in with your training and the other advice above looks pretty sound.

Given the irregularity of my shifts, I struggle to get into a routine, week to week patterns are too different so my training planning is super flexible, notionally aiming to get hardest sessions in on the morning before a night shift and on the first of the free days and then fitting what else I can in. Being office based, my work is not physical but the ability to do any workout post work is not guaranteed, but I’ll often try and fit something in (even if its often just a Taku which can be mentally refreshing) on the evening of the first day shift. Equally as I only work single nights, I can manage easy/short workouts on a sleep day, although these too are dropped if I’m suffering!

A typical base training week may look like Monday - Taku, Tuesday - Rest, Wednesday - Antellope +2, Thursday - Taku, Friday - Geiger +2, Saturday - Tallac +3 , Sunday - Taku. While for build and speciality, I’ll often use minus variants of workouts to keep the structure but reduce some of the stress and drop/combine shorter endurance work into longer, post hard session rides . It’s an approach that has seen me sit happily around 4 watts/kg for much of the last decade, although the balance with recovery is tricky and I have to be very aware of doing too much.

I’ve raced around shifts too, and the only real no-no I’ve found is the racing on an evening post night, that leaves me drained for days!

I know that after a few days of normal sleep patterns my outlook on life and training ability transforms so the moment I can drop shift work, I will…

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Hi

Thanks for your reply, good advice on the routine and I think to some degree I have this fairly nailed, it’s staying asleep thats the issue.

This week I’m experimenting with eating less during the nightshifts, so will see how that goes.

Enjoy the retirement, not jealous at all!

David

Hi

Thanks for the reply, I have tried the progressively later bedtime but found I was struggling to stay awake for the extra time and just decided to sleep.

I like the idea of the training hard/easy/hard easy but not quite sure how I will fit that in with plan builder which I’m currently using, I’m sure it would be possible though.

I don’t tend to do anything on the day of my first night shift other than “Dans” which is just 30 mins of Z1, I have found this seems to help pass the time during the day.

David

Hi

Thanks for the reply, 4 hours in the week doesn’t sound good at all, not surprising it broke you.

I think there are varying degrees of being able to cope with nights!

Hi

Thanks for the reply, You’ve hit the nail on the head with that last statement about how good you feel after a few days of normal sleep, I think its this which has made me more aware of just how rubbish i feel both on and after night shifts.

I also have to be careful of over doing things, not sure if that is anything to do with the shift work or the Testosterone deficiency which sees my hormone levels up/down over an 11 week cycle but I’m much more attuned to my level of fatigue now and have to actively try to resist doing harder rides sometimes because of this.

I’ve taken to using my holidays this year on a Friday night, so for quite a few weekends I will only be working a 2 night run, its avoidance rather than a cure but like yourself it depends on being able to drop shift work when the opportunity allows.

Another shift worker here. My work doesn’t do more than 2 nights in a row, so it’s really only one day where I need a good sleep between the two night shifts.

I occasionally use an antihistamine sleep tablet (restavit) when I’m between nights and trying to sleep through the day. I only have one and find them pretty mild, but I seem to be able to sleep longer, and fall back to sleep easier if I wake up after a few hours when I have them. Add that to the ear plugs/dark room/eye mask and I’m usually ok.
I pretty much write off training after a night shift, other than maybe a light cruise. I can’t do high intensity coming off nights at all.

HI Gary

thanks for the reply, I find I am sometimes able to tackle vo2 max the day after my last shift, it can all depend how iv’e slept over the three days, I am careful to listen to my body when I start the workout and if I can tell its too much I just cut it short.

I think sometimes it can help to sort of reset my system.