I am sure I speak for most shift workers when I say that although we love our jobs, we do not love the 2am wake up calls that often come with them! Shift work is more of a lifestyle rather than a “job”, and in order to cope, and flourish, you must embrace it! Here are my top tips to have you fighting fit and prepared for anything, no matter the time of the day or night.
It might sound quite obvious, but it is truly important to plan for your sleep. If you know you have a long flight the next day, the chances are crew scheduling will give you a “rest” day on your roster. If you are in ground based role, you will have at least 12 hours between your next early (4am) start for legality reasons. In saying this, you should plan to be in bed early enough to give you at least 7-8 hours sleep. If this isn’t possible, or you can’t fall asleep, resting in bed (or reading) is just as good. Even closing your eyes and not sleeping is preferable to watching Netflix! Download some white noise or sleep apps on your phone to block out unwanted thoughts and trick your mind into relaxing!
In order to feel sleepy and not be woken by a grumbling stomach, shift workers should have a light meal 2-3 hours before going to bed, preferably something with protein, vegetables and a small amount of carbs (enough to make you feel sleepy, not put you in a coma! Speaking of coma: NO ALCOHOL 12 hours before duty. NONE!) I personally have a fast metabolism and struggle if I don’t eat as soon as I get up. This can be a challenge when waking in the middle of the night. In order to wake up your metabolism; try to always have a banana, some dates or a muesli bar to give you a boost of energy on your commute to the airport (or the other side of the world!). With flying, crew aren’t necessarily allocated breaks to eat. On a long flight, rest periods are allocated. Generally, if all the passengers have eaten and the senior crew members say so, you can eat whenever (and where ever) possible!
The importance of being prepared the night before should not be taken lightly! Going to bed 5-10 minutes later is not an issue when you are thoroughly prepared for your wakeup. This may be hard to keep track of on layovers, but if you get into the habit early, it will be easier to maintain! I am talking everything ready to go; uniform properly ironed/pressed/dry cleaned, clean undergarments, hosiery (or socks for men), shoes polished, all correct items packed (ID, badges, documents) and if you are extra keen on being prepared, have a meal packed and ready to with you in your cabin bag! A tip: when flying, most aircraft ovens are only equipped to allow foil dishes. If you are preparing a meal at home; store it in a foil container with a paper lid. These are cheap, disposable and easy to find at supermarkets, and you can heat up your meal after the meal services are completed! Safety before efficiency: this is how all crew should think.
I hope you have found this advice useful, and can implement it into your daily life! 10 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot before you go to sleep, but an extra 10 minutes on your deep slumber will do wonders. As always, safety is paramount in aviation. If you are fatigued: speak to your Seniors, and seek assistance from your crew when necessary!