The continued growth of companies has led to more and more employers demanding night shift workers typically seen only in areas such as the medical or security industry. Although often associated with attractive wages, what is the impact of these shifts on employee health? Keep reading to learn about the risks associated with night shift work, and tips on how to prioritize your mental and physical health if you work unconventional hours.
The dangers of working the night shift
Our bodies have a biological rhythm that tells us when we should be active and when we should be comfortable throughout the day. Think of this as a natural stimulus — it tells our brains the approximate time to wake up in the day and lie down for a good night’s rest. This schedule goes further by helping us regulate our digestive system, body temperature and heart rate.
Night shifts pose health risks by disrupting the body’s circadian system, violating normal sleep patterns. Without proper self-care, there is a possibility of developing health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and being overweight. Do you consider yourself a health conscious person? Then it is essential that you take the time to prioritize your mental and physical health to ensure that your body is able to thrive.
How to work the night shift: Tips to stay healthy and productive
The key to successfully treating nighttime seizures is rooted in your ability to prioritize your health. Here are some suggestions on how to stay healthy when you skip those long hours:
1. Set a sleep schedule
Developing a consistent sleep routine is critical to preparing your body for the grueling hours of night shifts. If you’re a registered nurse or firefighter and want to incorporate naps, try to take a 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. nap and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. naps to get ready for your shift. If napping isn’t for you, consider sleeping in the morning before you go to work from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m.
2. Caffeine in moderation
Coffee and tea are life saviors for those trying to maintain the energy levels needed to carry out their responsibilities throughout the night. Remember to consume in moderate amounts, though, to avoid crashing in the middle of your work shift. It is recommended that you stop drinking caffeine around 2am or 3am to prevent you from not being able to sleep when you get home.
3. Eat healthy foods
Eating foods that are high in sugar and trans fats can make the night shift more difficult by destabilizing blood sugar levels and causing stomach discomfort. Pack nutritious snacks and meals when you feel hungry like salads, fruits, vegetables, and trail mixes.
Start the game by preparing your meals at the beginning of the week. This will help reduce the time you spend getting ready and thinking about good food options throughout the week.
4. Stay hydrated
Stay awake and active by making sure you drink enough fluids during your work shift. This also helps ensure that your bodily functions are working properly, since we rely heavily on water to keep our systems working.
5. Exercise regularly
Incorporating an exercise routine into your work week will help you feel more energized and prepared when you work the night shift. If you’re a truck driver who travels hundreds of miles a night, it can be hard to find the motivation to go to the gym. Find simple activities, such as biking or hiking, that will allow you to get some fresh air and work out some cardio.
6. Schedule nights shifts close to each other
If you have trouble getting used to odd hours, schedule back-to-back night shifts. If you work as a police officer or security guard, this will also allow you to take advantage of the day when you have days off.
7. Create a routine
Once your work schedule is set and somewhat aligned, make an effort to establish a routine for when you go to bed and wake up. This will ensure that you get a healthy amount of sleep while balancing other aspects of your life such as spending time with friends and family.
8. Avoid alcohol
Using alcohol as a way to fall asleep faster will disrupt the amount of quality sleep you get after your shift. Although it’s known as a sleep inducer, alcohol will affect REM sleep, affecting how refreshed you feel when you wake up.
9. Use your free time wisely
It’s only natural that you want to use your free time on your days off to do something fun and exciting. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll want to try to keep a relatively consistent schedule to prevent yourself from having to readjust to your work schedule.
10. Keeping your family in the loop
If you live with other people, keeping them updated with your work schedule can help them create a space that fits your sleep requirements. You can also plan meals that you will be able to share together to still make time for each other.
11. Take naps
Take advantage of your break times by taking one or two naps at a strategic time. This will help you stay alert and focused throughout the night. If possible, find a dark, quiet place where you can rest for 20-30 minutes.
12. Prioritize Self-Care
Night shifts can have an unfortunate effect on your mental health. Prioritizing self-care practices such as meditation, yoga, and other forms of therapy can help you stay in touch with yourself and how you feel.
13. Sleep-friendly bedroom design
Once you finally have access to the hay, you’ll want to create an environment that will allow you to drift off into a peaceful hibernation as quickly as possible. Close the blinds to prevent exposure to unwanted light, and avoid scrolling through the phone or television channels.
14. Blue light reduction
The blue light emitted by technical devices has a negative effect on levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Avoid using your phone or staring at the TV before going to bed to maximize the restful sleep you get.
15. Keep warm
Thanks to the built-in thermostat, your body naturally raises your temperature during the day and lowers it at night to conserve unused energy. Stay comfortably asleep by wrapping her in a blanket at night and using a fan while sleeping during the day to keep you cool.
16. Move around
Making time for short walks during your shift will not only keep you from falling asleep, but will keep blood flowing properly throughout your body. Go for a walk every hour or so to stretch and rejuvenate your legs.
17. Community Strengthening
Find fellow professionals or online forums where people can share their experiences and tips regarding taking the night work. You can discuss healthy habits and routines that have helped you adjust to the job, and maybe pick up some tips from others as well.
18. Try to get some sun
Those who work night shifts are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D, which is known to affect bone health and calcium levels. After you get some sleep, try opening your curtains or going for a walk around the neighborhood to get some sunlight.
19. Find a class
If you’re a medical professional, the CDC offers resources on how to handle night work and adjust your schedule to support a healthy lifestyle.
20. Talk to the doctor
Headache, insomnia, and nausea are just some of the symptoms a person can experience when practicing night shifts. Give yourself a month or so, and if these symptoms persist or worsen, seek advice from a doctor. They may be able to advise you on how to best manage your symptoms.
Although you may be satisfied with your salary, just keep in mind that there is nothing more valuable than your mental and physical health. With these tips and tricks, you can take your night shift knowing you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up for success all night long.
Sources: NCBI | NCBI | American Psychological Association