I received a question via Twitter from Krister Dunn about advice for low-sleep training for a person working 9-5 plus some graveyard shift work.
If your shift cycle is predictable, try to plan your training in cycle with your shifts. For example, a common rotation is to work this repeating three-week cycle:
Week 1: 7:00am to 3:00 pm
Week 2: 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm
Week 3: 11:00 pm to 7:00 am (graveyard)
Usually the day and evening shifts aren’t too bad for getting training accomplished. Schedule your heavy intensity or volume weeks for these two weeks. On the week you are working graveyard, make that your rest week. Cut volume and intensity back so your athletic training doesn’t take a toll on your body – in addition to the work load.
For the shift work people I’ve dealt with, there isn’t a consensus on the best time to workout when on the graveyard shift. Some people preferred to workout before going to work, while others preferred a morning workout after the shift, a meal and then sleep. A smaller number of people went home after work and slept short (a few hours) got up and did a workout followed by another few-hour sleep.There is personal preference and family situation coordination affecting the patterns as well.
The trick is to arrange workouts and sleep so that you can be alert at work and for your family, while optimizing your health and performance. Easier written than done.
If your shift rotation changes every few days or is a 12-hour shift rotation, it is a little trickier. Though more tricky, there is a pattern to most all rotations I’ve seen. Take a look at the pattern and arrange your workout schedule to fit the work pattern.
This likely means you need to arrange your workouts on a different cycle than seven days. For example, three days “on” and three days “off” of training. You may not be able to get much more than 30 minutes of workout time accomplished on your 12-hour work days and that’s okay. Most of the time a run or strength training is the easiest to pull off during the days short on personal time. Sometimes people can get a short workout in during lunch and that helps.
If the graveyard shift is totally random (i.e. you’re on call), then you may have to skip a workout now and then or rearrange the workouts so you do the key workouts when you are most rested rather than when they are shown on a training plan chart.
Hope this helps. If you have a more specific question, let me know.