The human body has a natural inclination to anchor to cues in the environment, with sunlight and the day/night cycle being the most influential. Working at night prevents your body from latching on to this powerful cue and puts you at odds with your innate circadian rhythm.
Shift work sleep disorder affects many of us who work when our body believes it should be sleeping. Symptoms may include feeling sleepy when you need to be awake, insomnia when you try to fall asleep, sleep that is ineffective and unrefreshing, lack of energy, poor concentration, irritability, and even depression.
The best thing you can do is to establish very clear routines and behaviors associated with light exposure (sleep), fueling (diet), and exercise to provide predictable “anchors” your body can respond to. This will help your body understand what to expect next and will lessen the potential repercussions of working night shift.
Some things to take into consideration when deciding when the ideal time is for you to work out:
Before shift: Exercising when you wake up, before your night shift, could give you the burst of energy you need to get your workday underway. This can be beneficial to someone who normally is tired when it’s dark outside.
Mid shift: A night owl might not need to incorporate movement first thing upon waking up, but could benefit from an energizing run or resistance-training session during a mid-shift break.
After shift: Working out in the morning, following your shift, could help you become tired enough to fall asleep as the sun rises. Alternatively, morning exercise may energize you so much that you have trouble falling asleep right away. This might also be desirable if you prefer to wind down a bit before your daytime sleep. Eventually the fatiguing effects of the workout will kick in, and you will be able to fall asleep.
The WHOOP Journal feature enables you to see the effects that light exposure, fueling and exercise behaviors (plus many others too) have on the quality and duration of your sleep. Additionally, WHOOP quantifies the strain your body takes on and tells you how recovered you are each day, so you can further track the impact of working night shift and better understand how to manage it.