WORKING SHIFTS AND LATE NIGHTS

When you’re working a shift-schedule or working late nights, your physical activity, sleep and diet habits can really suffer. People who work shifts may find it hard to keep up a regular exercise and sleep schedule, putting shift workers at higher risk of weight gain, and all sorts of health disorders, from heart disease to cancer (National Sleep Foundation).

EXERCISE

No matter how busy your schedule may seem, even small bursts of physical activity will be beneficial to your health. Not only can it help improve your fitness and sleep, but also decrease your risk of disease and make you feel better.

Here are some tips to make it easier for you to stay active even with an irregular or shift work schedule.

  1. Try to take walks before or after work, or even during your breaks. This is a soothing activity which can help with not only your physical health, but also your mental health.
  2. If you’ve been standing for long periods of time; get up and move, whether it’s a light stretch or some short spurts of movement, such as push-ups or some squats. Read our blog post on Movement Snacks for more ideas.
  3. We take the lift or escalator without thinking but if it’s just a few floors – really make an effort to take the stairs whenever you can.
  4. If you drive, park further away so you have to walk more. If you take Public Transport, get off a stop or two early.
  5. If you do have time to workout, try doing it before work as it’s likely you’ll be too tired afterwards. This will give you a sense of accomplishment before your day/night begins and give you some energy to get through your shift.
  6. Keep a pair of light weights, a stability ball or resistance bands at your desk and try to use them for at least 10 minutes during your breaks or throughout your shift.
  7. Find a gym that offers 24-hour access so that you can go whenever it suits you.
  8. Try short sharp bursts of exercise over long workouts which might be hard to squeeze in for those of you working longer shifts. Log-in to Ritualize to try our 7-minute workouts.

It’s important to remember that every little bit of movement counts!

 

SLEEP

The sleep-wake cycle appears to have evolved for humans to be awake during the day and to sleep for approximately eight hours at night. There is a small part of the brain called the ‘circadian clock’, which monitors the amount of light you see, so in the evening, when the light starts to wane, your clock notices and prompts a flood of a brain chemical called melatonin, which gives the body the signal to fall asleep. Overnight, melatonin levels remain high. They drop at daybreak and remain low during the day. A person working night shift, which causes disruption to the circadian rhythm, is at greater risk of various disorders, accidents and misfortunes.

So if you’re a shift-worker or regularly working late, what can you do to help improve your sleep?

  • Try not to work a number of night shifts in a row. You may become increasingly more sleep-deprived over several nights on the job. You’re more likely to recover if you can limit night shifts and schedule days off in between.
  • Avoid frequently rotating shifts. If you can’t, it’s easier to adjust to a schedule that rotates from day shift to evening to night rather than the reverse order.
  • Keep your workplace brightly lighted to keep yourself alert. If you’re working the night shift, expose yourself to bright light when you wake up, such as that from special light boxes, lamps, and visors designed for people with circadian-related sleep problems, Being exposed to bright light when you start your ‘day’ can help train your body’s internal clock to adjust.
  • Limit your caffeine intake. Drinking a cup of coffee at the beginning of your shift will help promote alertness, but don’t consume caffeine later in the shift or you may have trouble falling asleep when you get home.
  • Avoid bright light on the way home from work, which will make it easier for you to fall asleep once you hit the pillow. Wear dark, wraparound sunglasses and a hat to shield yourself from sunlight. Don’t stop to run errands, tempting as that may be.
  • Use blackout blinds or heavy curtains to block sunlight when you sleep during the day. Even if your eyes are closed, the sunlight coming into the room tells your brain that it’s daytime, and that can really impact your ability to sleep and stay asleep for the time that you need.
  • Try Box Breathing to help unwind after shifts. It is a simple technique to help you manage stress, calm your nerves, reduce anxiety and can improve your sleep. Check out our tutorials and a series of guided breathing sessions.

 

DIET

When you work shifts, you may find it hard to know when and what to eat. Here are some tips on how to manage a healthy diet:

  • Eat your “main meal” before going to work, as eating large meals during the night can cause heartburn, gas, or constipation. Then have smaller meals and healthy snacks during your shift and before bed.
  • Have a light snack before bedtime. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re too hungry or too full. If you’re still hungry after work, eat a small healthy snack before bedtime. Try a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk or a piece of whole grain toast with jam. If you’re too full at bedtime try cutting out a snack during your shift.
  • Pack your own healthy snacks. It can be difficult to find healthy snacks during the afternoon and night shifts. The cafeteria may be closed. Vending machines may only carry salty or high fat snacks, and high calorie sugary drinks. Examples of good snacks are an apple, a banana or a handful of nuts with low in sugar yogurt.
  • Avoid fatty, fried or spicy foods. Foods such as hamburgers, fried chicken and spicy chili may lead to heartburn and indigestion. Eating too much processed and trans fat can also increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For information on healthy fats, check out our blog post.
  • Avoid fast food, no matter how easy and accessible it is. Try to meal prep at the start of each week, if you’re finding it difficult to prepare healthy food every day.
  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks. You may feel a quick boost of energy after having a chocolate bar or sugary soft drink. This feeling doesn’t last long and you may experience low energy levels later on. Enjoy nutritious snacks and beverages instead to stay alert and keep your energy up.
  • Take your time eating. Don’t rush when you eat. You deserve your break, so enjoy every single bite of your meals and snack! If possible, eat with your co-workers for some company.
  • Stay well hydrated. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. It may help you to stay alert and not feel so tired during your shift. Keep a water bottle nearby and take sips even before you feel thirsty. Low fat milk, tea or herbal tea are other nutritious beverages that you can drink. Watch the amount of 100% fruit juice you drink because the calories can add up quickly.
  • Avoid alcohol after work and when you get home. A drink may make you feel more relaxed, but alcohol can disturb your sleep.

REFERENCES:

https://sleepfoundation.org/shift-work/content/tips-healthy-eating-and-exercising-when-working-shifts

https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2017/jun/22/shift-work-how-to-stay-healthy-while-working-round-the-clock

https://www.military.com/military-fitness/health/working-the-night-shift-fitting-in-fitness-nutrition

https://www.livestrong.com/article/530503-the-best-time-to-workout-if-you-work-a-night-shift/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2784228/

https://sleepfoundation.org/shift-work/content/living-coping-shift-work-disorder

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389945709000094

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5241621/

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/shiftwork

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/night-shift-sleep#1

http://www.ohsrep.org.au/hazards/fatigue,-impairment-and-shift-work/shiftwork-health-effects

https://www.dietitians.ca/your-health/nutrition-a-z/healthy-eating/10-nutrition-tips-for-shift-workers.aspx

 

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