The continued growth of companies has resulted in an increasing number of employers asking their employees to take on night shifts that are normally only found in areas such as the medical or security industries. What are the effects of these shifts on employee health, even though they are often associated with attractive wages? Read on to learn about the risks associated with night shifts and tips on how to prioritize your mental and physical wellbeing when you have unusual work hours.
Night shift risks
Our body has a circadian rhythm that signals when to be active and when to relax throughout the day. Think of this as our natural alarm clock – it dictates to our brain the approximate time to get up for the day and lie down for a good night’s sleep. This schedule goes on by helping us regulate our digestive system, body temperature, and heart rate.
Night shifts pose health risks by disrupting the body’s circadian system and violating its natural sleep patterns. Without proper self-care, health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain can occur. Do you consider yourself a health conscious person? Then it is imperative to take the time to prioritize your mental and physical health to ensure that your body can thrive.
How to Work the Night Shift: Tips to Stay Healthy and Productive
The key to successfully tackling night shifts lies in your ability to prioritize your wellbeing. Here are a few suggestions on how to stay healthy as you go through these long hours:
1. Establish a sleep plan
Developing a consistent sleep routine is critical in preparing your body for the grueling hours of a night shift. If you are a registered nurse or firefighter and enjoy taking a nap, try resting from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and napping from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to prepare for your shift. If napping isn’t for you, consider getting to sleep from 6 a.m. to noon in the morning before going to work
2. Consume caffeine in moderation
Coffee and tea are lifesavers for those trying to maintain the energy levels they need to carry out their responsibilities throughout the night. However, remember to consume in moderate amounts to avoid crashing in the middle of your shift. It is recommended that you stop drinking caffeine around 2 or 3 a.m. so that you cannot fall asleep when you get home.
3. Eat healthy foods
Eating foods high in sugar and trans fat can make the night shift difficult by destabilizing blood sugar levels and causing stomach upset. Pack nutritious snacks and meals when you get hungry, such as salads, fruits, vegetables, and trail mix.
Stay one step ahead of the game by preparing your meals early in the week. This will help reduce the amount of time you spend preparing during the week and thinking about good options for eating.
4. Stay hydrated
Stay awake and energized by drinking enough fluids during your shift. This also helps your body functions to function properly as we rely heavily on water to keep our systems running.
5. Exercise regularly
When you incorporate a workout routine into your work week, you’ll feel more energetic and prepared when you work night shifts. When you’re a truck driver who covers hundreds of miles at night, finding the motivation to hit the gym can be difficult. Find simple activities like biking or hiking that will allow you to get some fresh air and work in cardio.
6. Plan night shifts close together
If you’re struggling to get used to the odd hours, schedule night shifts one at a time. If you work as a police officer or security guard, you can also use the day on days off.
7. Create a routine
Once your work schedule is reasonably firm and consistent, make an effort to establish a routine for going to bed and waking up. This ensures that you sleep soundly while balancing other aspects of your life like spending time with friends and family.
8. Avoid alcohol
Using alcohol as a means to fall asleep faster will affect the quality of the sleep you get after your shift. Although alcohol is known as a sleep inducer, it affects your REM sleep, which affects how refreshed you feel when you wake up.
9. Use your free time wisely
It is very natural that you want to use the free time you have on your days off to do something fun and exciting. Remember, however, that you should try to keep a relatively consistent schedule to avoid having to adjust to your work schedule.
10. Keep your budget updated
Living with others can help them create a space that suits your sleeping needs by keeping them updated on your work schedule. You can also plan the meals to share together so you can keep time for each other.
11. Take a nap
Make the most of your break times by taking a strategically coordinated nap or two. This will help you stay awake and focused all night. If possible, find a dark, quiet place to rest for 20-30 minutes.
12. Prioritize self-care
Night shifts can have a negative impact on your mental health. Prioritizing self-care practices like meditation, yoga, and other forms of therapy can help you stay connected with yourself and your health.
13. Design a sleep-friendly bedroom
Once you are finally able to beat the hay, you want to create an environment that will allow you to fall into a peaceful sleep as quickly as possible. Close blinds to block out unwanted light and avoid scrolling through your phone or TV channels.
14. Limit blue light
Blue light emitted by technical devices has a negative impact on your melatonin and sleep hormone levels. Avoid using your phone or staring at the TV before going to bed to maximize restful sleep.
15. Keep yourself warm
With your built-in thermostat, your body naturally increases your temperature during the day and lowers it at night to save unused energy. Sleep comfortably by wrapping yourself in a blanket at night and using a fan during the day to stay cool.
16. Get moving
Taking time out for short walks during your shift will not only prevent you from falling asleep, but you will also keep your blood flowing properly through your body. Take an hourly walk to stretch your legs and regenerate.
17. Foster a community
Look for co-workers or online forums where people can share their experiences and advice about working night shifts. You could talk about healthy habits and routines that helped you get used to the job, and maybe get some tips from others as well.
18. Try to get some sun
Those who work night shifts are more prone to vitamin D deficiency, which is known to affect bone health and calcium levels. After you’ve got some sleep, try opening your curtains or taking a walk around the neighborhood to get some sunlight.
19. Find a class
If you are a medical professional, the CDC has resources on how to manage night shifts and adapt your schedule to a healthy lifestyle.
20. Talk to a doctor
Headaches, insomnia, and nausea are just a few of the symptoms that can occur during night shifts. Give yourself about a month and if these symptoms persist or get worse, see a doctor. They may be able to advise you on how to better manage your symptoms.
Although you may be satisfied with your salary, remember that nothing is more valuable than your mental and physical health. With these tips and tricks, you can take on your night shifts knowing that you will do whatever it takes to be successful all night long.
Sources: NCBI | NCBI | American Psychological Association