Nootropics for Shift Work

Nootropics for Shift Work

Maybe it’s a nurse. Or it could be a policeman, or a truck driver, or even a gas station attendant. Odds are you know somebody who works night shifts. You are probably used to them seeming a little burnt out and tired at social functions. But are you aware of just how deeply their disrupted circadian rhythms affect their cognitive abilities?

No matter how you slice it, humans are not biologically hardwired to stay up all night. Force yourself to do it, and it is likely that you are going to experience some degree of mental fallout [1]. Everybody knows that lost sleep makes you groggy, spacey, and irritable but it goes a bit deeper than that.

The good news? If you have a job where you never clock out before sunrise, there are nootropics you can take to remedy the detrimentally affected parts of your cognition.

How Night Shifts Affect the Brain

Nootropics for Shift Work

Sleep Schedule: Melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm. By taking melatonin supplements, you can influence when your brain decides it is time to go to sleep.

Staying Alert on the Job: Rhodiola does wonders for fatigue. Supplementing with rhodiola can improve your alertness and cognition.

Sleep Quality: Phenibut is an anxiolytic substance that improves the depth and quality of your sleep.

First of all, a look at what exactly working a night shift is doing to you. Before anything else, it’s disrupting your circadian rhythm. This is your body’s baseline biological “internal clock.” It tells you when to be hungry, feel tired, wake up, and so on. Usually it ticks along undisturbed, but staying up all night disrupts it.

Studies show that an off-balance circadian rhythm will decrease your ability to concentrate, how well you perform tasks, how alert you are, and your reaction time. Thus, statistically, workers driving home from night shifts are at a much higher risk of getting in accidents [2]. Not only that, studies even show that disrupted circadian rhythms can accelerate brain aging [3].

Top this all off with the fact that many shift workers are performing high-stress jobs where primed reflexes are crucial (policeman or surgeons, for instance) and the cognitive impact of night shifts starts to look a little scary. One experiment measured a drastic drop in the cognitive performance of sixteen emergency medical personnel after only five successive night shifts.

So that’s the bad news. What about counteracting all of this? Fortunately for you, nootropics are on the job. Let’s examine a few crucial supplements for anybody burning the midnight oil.

Melatonin for Circadian Rhythm

Melatonin influences your circadian rhythm
CC BY-SA 3.0 by LCGS Russ

First up is melatonin. Any nootropic stack looking to deal with a disrupted sleep schedule should start with melatonin. It’s hard to go wrong with it. To start with, melatonin is a neurohormone, meaning that it’s already produced by the brain [4].

In fact, melatonin is vital to the body’s regulation of your circadian rhythm [5]. There are two main times when your body releases melatonin: when your body wants you to go to sleep, and then about eight hours later when it wants you to wake up. In other words, melatonin regulates your sleep schedule.

So, chalk that up as melatonin benefit number one. By taking a dose before bed, you can essentially “hack” your brain. It won’t make you drowsy and it’s not addictive or habit forming. It will just naturally suggest to your brain that it is time to get this sleep thing rolling and, eight hours later, voila, your brain will decide it’s time to wake up.

Melatonin is great for insomnia or jet lag, but in this case, it’s a great shortcut to alter your circadian rhythm without waiting for weeks or months of adjustment. The benefits don’t stop there, as melatonin is also an antioxidant [4]. Trials have even suggested that it can protect and promote healthy cells!

Rhodiola Rosea for Fatigue

Don’t fall asleep on the job, take Rhodiola!

That takes care of keeping your sleep schedule regulated, but what about staying alert on the job? Odds are you’re going to be dealing with some level of decreased alertness during your night shifts, no matter how hard you try to keep your sleep schedule regular.

In this capacity, rhodiola rosea is a godsend. Historically used by Vikings and the Chinese, Rhodiola combats fatigue. Categorically an adaptogen, it affects a slew of neural processes, even stimulating feel-good neuroreceptors like dopamine and serotonin [6]. But what’s crucial about it in this case are its anti-fatigue properties.

A double-blind trial of 56 physicians put under stressful situations found that rhodiola gave a statistically significant boost to perceptive and cognitive functions [7]. What lore has long maintained is now scientifically backed up, even if the exact functions of the herb aren’t fully understood: rhodiola rosea is a great, safe way to combat fatigue and increase alertness.

Phenibut for Better Sleep

To round off your nootropic night shift regimen, there’s just one more crucial factor: how well you sleep. Enter phenibut. The compound, a GABA derivative designed to reduce stress for Russian cosmonauts, stimulates GABA-B receptors. Besides potent anti-stress properties, phenibut is also a phenomenal sleep aid, albeit in a particular way.

Rather than inducing drowsiness, it simply improves the depth and quality of rest once you’re actually asleep. Pair it with melatonin, and you could very well be looking at the most restful sleep of your life.However, if not dosed and cycled properly, phenibut can have withdrawal symptoms, so follow dosing instructions carefully and do not take phenibut everyday.

Even if you aren’t working night shifts, you may struggle with a disrupted circadian rhythm, sleepless nights, and all-around drowsiness. Next time you find yourself yawning on the ride home, consider trying any or all of the above and look forward to a well-rested, energetic future.


  1. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/night-work.aspx
  2. http://www.academia.edu/497725/Effects_of_working_permanent_night_shifts_and_two_shifts_on_cognitive_and_psychomotor_performance
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24076971
  4. http://www.med.mcgill.ca/epidemiology/hanley/tmp/Mean-Quantile/night_shift_ER.pdf
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12622846
  6. http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5398/4-Ways-Rhodiola-Could-Change-Your-Life.html
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11081987
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11830761