How do you adjust to nights?

Im sure every Mariner at some point in their career dreaded the trip where they would work the graveyard shift. I know of some who prefer it and I like to think there is some peace of mind working that way. I find my usual routine is slogging for roughly 3-4 days before my body adjusts and afterwards it becomes more tolerable.

The #1 tip I can give is to reduce sugar intake, especially after 6-7am as I have discovered through trial and error it will help to increase your rest period.

Of course the “sticks and mud” dark roast blend from down south is my usual preference to keep the engine turning.

I never really thought about it. Not like there is a “graveyard shift” when you are standing 4 hour watches twice a day. Every day there is a “graveyard shift”. It was more difficult when I would stand 12 hour watches twice a day. Add in CE duties, well, 12 hour days were a rarity. . .

When I pull a late watch (we do 8 hr watches plus OT) I find earbuds and eye masks to be indispensable. You can buy an eye mask at any pharmacy. A lot of airlines offer them free on long haul flights. Grab extras and stuff them in your bag.

I avoid heavy, greasy meals and take a nice hot shower before I turn in. I bring a favorite bag of Hawaiian coffee and a coffee funnel and make my own delicious wakeup cup.

I guess a lot of it must be mental; I never dreaded pulling a late watch, but I am naturally a night owl. We used to work on a rotating watch schedule, so we all got to stand watches at night (things have since shifted to a circadian rhythm). When everyone is asleep the ship is quiet, and all the bullshit they stir up while they’re awake settles back down. The pace was generally less hectic, usually just staying in sector while setting up for the next day’s schedule of events. We would entertain ourselves telling stories, or training, or my personal favorite, wasting a roll of electrical tape enforcing light discipline on the bridge’s myriad of unnecessary light sources.

The only thing I ever thought sucked about night watches was the expectation to roll off watch and then work a full day.

I’ll take a 12 hour watch any day of the week over the 4/8 system. Maybe it’s just because I only worked 12 hour shifts(midnight to noon)for years until recently. I’m a huge fan of 12 hours and absolutely hate 4 on 8off(with OT blended in). With a 12 hour system you can still do drills and have a couple hours to mess around before you lay down and get at least 7 hours straight of sleep. With the 4 on 8 off I’m lucky if i get 2-3 of sleep hours each watch period. Just seems ridicolous, but that’s just my $0.02.


Darken all windows in my cabin. I mean pitch black darken them. No heavy greasy meals. Very little sugar as it creates spikes and crashes that make the watch miserable for me. Excellent quality coffee AND tea sometimes just to switch things up. Drinking lots of fresh clean water to counteract the dehydration of coffee and caffeine. Vitamin D tablets to keep me energized without much sunlight. A light workout every day, then in bed for a solid 8 hours. That’s my night shift routine.

IMO, the only thing bad about working only night watches is being out of sync with loved ones when calling home. Of course when working in the opposite hemispheres the night watch is awesome. Your night watch matches your family day time hours.

I don’t think there’s a secret to make night watches normal for people who aren’t suited for them, only tips to make them less miserable.

Too bad for all the captains & chiefs who love the night watches but will never be able to work them again. If I ever again work on a vessel that doesn’t have email or a satellite phone I will work at nights, I can get so much accomplished. The problem with daytime work is too many emails, people & distractions.

1 Like

I’m always amazed that designers of maritime bridge equipment have such a shitty concept of ‘darkness’. (That and the occasional screen that’s polarized incorrectly.)


At one point before my maritime career I worked bridge construction. The schedule I was hired on at was 6pm to 6am, mandatory 6 days a week and sometimes the 7th was required as well. I NEVE GOT ACCUSTOMED TO NIGHT SHIFT. I worked this job for about 1 year before I called it quits. The funny thing was, after one night of sleep, I was straight back to a normal sleep schedule and felt great again.

I have always felt like a zombie on nights no matter what I have tried. I have had shipmates tell me to try all sorts of different variations of cures to no avail.

I despise night shift and will never understand those who actually prefer it… Blows my mind.

Maybe it is a mental thing, maybe not…

This is my method for adjusting to a 12 hour watch from midnight to noon. It may not be completely compliant with the policies of every company, but I find it effective and believe it to be legal.

This method assumes more than normal fatigue on Day 1, so if this is not the case adjust accordingly. Other implied elements include a cold, dark, quiet room and a source of white noise.

Day 1. Immediately after watch, take 1 5 mg melatonin and 1 benadryl. Keep a supply of melatonin and a bottled water handy. If you wake with more than 4 hours remaining until your alarm, take a second melatonin, keep the lights out and go back to sleep.

Day 2. Immediately after watch, take a 5 mg melatonin. Keep a supply of melatonin and a bottled water handy. If you wake with more than 4 hours remaining until your alarm, take a second melatonin, keep the lights out and go back to sleep.

Day 3. Do nothing special other than your level best to relax and treat early afternoon as your normal sleep time. If you have not fallen asleep before there are 6 hours left before your alarm, take 1 5 mg melatonin and go to sleep, or if you wake with more than 4 hours to go before your alarm, take 1 5 mg melatonin and go back to sleep. Do not take 2 melatonin.

Day 4+. Continue treating early afternoon as though it is your natural bedtime, avoid excessive light, mental stimulation, or television. White noise and periodic exercise are your friends.

If you end up with later difficulty, you can revisit any part of this method, though one should avoid the prolonged use of melatonin supplements due to the possibility of dependence. Generally speaking by day three I don’t even get fatigued during the dreaded 0300-0500 time frame. Consistency is the key to resetting your circadian rhythm. YMMV

1 Like

I guess I’m one of the lucky guys that never had a problem switching to a night shift, whether it be 00 to 12 or the 12-4 on a three watch ship. What I did find that helped was having to get up at 0300 to get to the airport on crew change day. By the time I got to the ship and finished turnover I would be wiped out and ready for bed. I’d hit the rack as soon as I could and that would be the whole transition.

For living on the night shift, I found that the biggest thing was keeping my window covered up as much as possible. I rarely used the fluorescent lights in my room. I always had a desk lamp or two that I would keep on instead. I would also avoid reading or watching movies in bed. I’d sit at my desk or in a recliner or couch depending on what my room had. The bed was for sleeping. I was also strict about my coffee times. No coffee after 0800 when I was on the 00-12. On the three watch system I’d have one cup at midnight and take a nap after 0400. OT started at 08, so I’d have coffee at 08, 1020 and last cup at noon. It’s easier to stay awake if you’re constantly checking machinery or working, it’s much harder if you’re staring out a window or at a computer screen. A couple of the mates I’ve talked with would walk. One mate has figured out how many laps of the wheelhouse to a mile and he’ll try to get in a couple of miles a night.

Personally I had bigger problems transitioning off of the night shift when I came home.

One ship I was on had the 3a/e on 12-00 and the 2a/e on 00-12, but we were bumping the 3a/e to 2a/e when the 2a/e’s hitch ended. That was a bit of a challenge, but we were able to make the transition by starting a few days in advance. We figured out how to stay within STCW while not screwing anybody over and making sure that the ER stayed manned. Not sure if I still have the spreadsheet around that we used, but it worked out pretty well.


When I was sailing, I never really thought about it much. I never had a problem falling asleep, either in the afternoon or late at night. As a policy when I was the only engineer on ocean tugs, and standing the 8-12, I would leave my cabin door open in the afternoon, whether I was taking a nap or not, in case there was some issue that arose. Much the same when I was on the ATBs. I was busy enough during my working hours (especially in excess of watches) that I had NO problem falling asleep. As stated above, those problems became more apparent when I came ashore. I was single most of the time I was sailing, so my hours at home could mimic my hours at sea. . . Once I got married and was partying less, I did have some issues adjusting to a “normal” sleep rotation, but not once I got back at sea.

I don’t know how to adjust, but I did get an expert lesson on how to honour the letter of the ILO work/rest rules while sucking out the spirit. I still don’t know if it was hazing or wtf it was. But I do know that sleep is for the weak, UMS is for sissies, minimum manning is just number, and nothing is stronger than a strangely nimble soulless zombie with the ability to use tools.

holla holla holla:

1 Like

most things we eat on board contain sugar, sometime the last day job can also contribute to what you are saying. Nice practical any ways.


They are insights. Just lay back and take it in all it’s broken English glory