Combining school and work is hard enough for most people, but when you work third shift or other unusual schedules, it can be even worse. Shift workers often experience reduced sleep, which can interfere with cognitive ability and learning, and may also have problems if they have to go on campus for meetings at times that tend to assume everyone is on a diurnal schedule.

Here are some tips to improve your ability to study and learn when you have to work nights:

1.       If possible, schedule exams and tests for your days off when you can catch up on sleep a little and be alert.

2.       Plan your schoolwork in appropriate chunks that you can study during lunch or breaks. If your job allows, you may be able to study during downtime, but never count on it.

3.       If you know you can’t study well either before or after your shift, then don’t try. Choose a time that works, or blitz studying on your days off. If you do the latter, try to make sure you study for X hours before running other errands if possible.

4.       Study somewhere other than home, as this tends to make you more alert in general. If you are still fresh after work, stop somewhere to study on your way home. Otherwise, consider stopping on your way to work, perhaps at a coffee shop to pick up some caffeine to fuel yourself.

5.       Keep your sleep schedule as close to the same as you can. This may not always be possible, as some errands (such as doctor’s appointments) have to be done during the day. Make sure you get enough sleep, and create a sleep-friendly environment. Blackout curtains are handy for helping you sleep during the day. Turn off your cellphone when you sleep. If you have a land line, turn off the ringer.

6.       Allow some time for fun. Working the night shift can be a killer on your social life, and when you add in studying as well, seeing your friends can be a challenge. However, if all you do is work and study you will burn out, affecting your job, your grades, and your health. Find a time in your schedule when you can goof off freely.

7.       Eat healthy. Night shift workers tend toward bad habits, such as fast food and energy drinks, so you should do your best to avoid these. Small amounts of caffeine at intervals keep you awake better than an energy drink or a huge mug of coffee at the start of your shift.

8.       Exercise. Ideally, hit the gym close to the start of your shift as this will help you switch your sleep pattern. You can even have your exercise time do double duty – can you read textbooks while working out? Listen to audio? It’s possible to study and exercise at the same time.

9.       If you have live webinars or other classes you have to be awake for, try to choose times that are later in the day, so you can get at least a reasonable amount of sleep before having to be awake. Don’t be afraid to tell your advisor that you are on the night shift so they can accommodate you.

10.     Prepare for exams early. Allow for the fact that you might not be able to study while at work, or might crash out when you intended to study, and give yourself a bit of extra time to get ready. Ask for study guides early.

Working the night shift can have financial benefits, but it is not always good for your health. It can also be bad for your grades. Follow these tips to help you work nights and study without suffering (too much).