Medicines and shift work

Shift work, especially when hours change often, can make managing your medicines challenging.

Shift work is any type of work that requires you to be awake when you would normally be asleep. It can involve early starts, late finishes and night work or situations were you have changeable, irregular or unpredictable work hours. Read more about managing sleep and shift work.

Doing shift work can make managing your medicines tricky, especially if you are taking regular medicines to manage a long term health condition. Here are a few things to consider.

Tips for remembering to take your medicines

It is important to take your medicines regularly to get the best possible results from your treatment. Setting an alarm, using a medicine reminder app, a pill box or compliance (blister) packaging from your pharmacy are things you can do to remember to take your medicines at the same times each day. Read some more tips for remembering to take your medicine.

Talk to your healthcare provider about the timing of your medicines

If changes in your routine are causing problems with the timing of your medicines, talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Some medicines are available in long-acting formulations, which release the medicine over a longer period of time. This means they may only need to be taken once a day.  

It is always helpful to get your medicines reviewed regularly by your pharmacist or doctor. This is important because things may have changed. For example, your health status might have changed, or a medicine you are taking may no longer be necessary. Learn more about how to get the most from your medicines.  

Be aware of medicines that affect your concentration

Some medicines, including over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and herbal products, can cause drowsiness and affect your concentration. These effects are worse if you haven't had enough sleep or you're tired. They can also be made worse with alcohol.   

For medicines that are known to cause drowsiness, the drowsiness and poor concentration is often most noticeable when you first start taking it and settles with time as your body adjusts to the new medicine. It could be a good idea to start taking these medicines on your day off to give your body time to adjust before you go back to work. Avoid alcohol and be careful when driving or operating machinery until you know how the medicine affects you.  

Stimulants can affect your medicines or health condition

Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can make you feel more awake, alert, confident or energetic. If you are needing to stay awake at a time when your body wants to sleep, you might be tempted to use them to stay alert. However, you need to be aware of the possible outcomes because taking stimulants with some medicines can have harmful effects including high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and anxiety. Think about how much caffeine you might be taking in by drinking coffee, tea, caffeinated fizzy drinks and energy drinks.

Other stimulants include nicotine, betel nut and khat.  


  1. Caffeine Harvard School of Public Health
  2. The pharmacist’s role in identifying and managing shift work disorder US Pharmacist, 2012
  3. Stimulants Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia 
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 22 Aug 2022