The continued growth of businesses has led to more employers asking workers to take on night shifts normally only seen in fields like the medical or security industry. Although often associated with enticing wages, what impact do these shifts have on employee health? Continue reading to learn about the risks associated with working night shifts, and tips for how you can prioritize your mental and physical well-being if you’re working untraditional hours.
Risks of Working the Night Shift
Our bodies have a circadian rhythm that signals us when to be active and when to be restful throughout the day. Think of this as our natural alarm clock — it dictates to our brains the approximate time to get up for 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, and going against its natural sleep patterns. Without proper self-care, there’s the potential of developing health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain. Consider yourself a health-conscious person? Then it’s imperative to take the time to prioritize your mental and physical health to ensure your body is able to thrive.
How to Work the Night Shift: Tips for Staying Healthy and Productive
The key to successfully tackling night shifts is rooted in your ability to prioritize your wellness. Here are a few suggestions on how to stay healthy when pushing through those long hours:
1. Set a Sleep Schedule
Developing a consistent sleep routine is critical to preparing your body for the grueling hours of a night shift. If you’re a registered nurse or firefighter who likes to incorporate naps, try getting rest from 6 a.m.-10 a.m. and napping from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. to prepare for your shift. If naps aren’t for you, consider sleeping in the morning before you go to work from 6 a.m.-12 p.m.
2. Consume Caffeine in Moderation
Coffee and tea are lifesavers for those trying to maintain the energy levels needed to carry out their responsibilities throughout the night. Remember to consume in moderate amounts, however, to avoid crashing in the middle of your shift. It’s recommended to stop drinking caffeine around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to prevent you from not being able to fall asleep when you get home.
3. Eat Healthy Foods
Eating foods 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 for when you get hungry like salads, fruits, veggies, and trail mix.
Get ahead of the game by prepping your meals at the start of the week. This will help cut down on the time you spend getting ready and thinking of good options for you to eat throughout the week.
4. Stay Hydrated
Stay awake and energized by making sure you’re drinking enough fluids during your shift. This also helps to ensure your bodily functions are working properly, since we rely heavily on water to keep our systems running.
5. Exercise Regularly
Incorporating an exercise routine into your work week will help you feel more energized and prepared when taking on night shifts. If you’re a truck driver traveling hundreds of miles a night, it can be difficult to find the motivation to hit the gym. Find simple activities, like biking or hiking, that will allow you to get some fresh air and work in some cardio.
6. Schedule Nights Shifts Close Together
If you’re having trouble getting used to the odd hours, schedule night shifts consecutively. If you work as a police officer or security guard, this will also allow you to take advantage of the daytime when you have days off.
7. Create a Routine
Once your work schedule is somewhat set and consistent, make an effort to set a routine for when you’ll be going to bed and waking up. This will ensure you’re getting healthy amounts of sleep while you balance 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 disrupt the amount of quality sleep you get after your shift. Though known as a sleep inducer, alcohol will impact your REM sleep, which influences how refreshed you feel when you wake.
9. Use Free Time Wisely
It’s natural to want to use the free time you have on your off days 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 needing to readjust to your work schedule.
10. Keep Your Household in the Loop
If you live with other people, keeping them up to date on your work schedule can help them create a space that accommodates your sleep requirements. You can also plan the meals you’ll be able to share together to continue to make time for each other.
11. Take Nap Breaks
Take advantage of your break times by fitting in one or two strategically timed naps. This will help you remain alert and focused throughout the night. If possible, find a dark, quiet space where you can rest for 20-30 minutes.
12. Prioritize Self-Care
Working night shifts can have an unfortunate impact on your mental health. Prioritizing self-care practices like meditation, yoga, and other forms of therapy can help you stay connected to yourself and how you’re feeling.
13. Design a Sleep-friendly Bedroom
Once you’re finally able to hit the hay, you’ll want to create an environment that will allow you to drift into a peaceful slumber as quickly as possible. Close blinds to block out any unwanted light exposure, and avoid scrolling through your phone or TV channels.
14. Limit Blue Light
Blue light emitted from tech devices has a negative impact on your melatonin and sleep hormone levels. Avoid using your phone or staring at the television before going to bed to maximize the amount of restful sleep you get.
15. Keep Warm
With your built-in thermostat, your body naturally raises your temperature during the day and reduces it at night to preserve unused energy. Remain comfortably asleep by wrapping up in a blanket at night and using a fan while sleeping during the day to keep cool.
16. Move Around
Making time to take short walks throughout your shift will not only prevent you from falling asleep, but keep your blood flowing properly throughout your body. Go on a walk every hour or so to stretch your legs and rejuvenate yourself.
17. Foster a Community
Seek out fellow professionals or online forums where people can share their experiences and advice regarding taking on night shift hours. You could discuss healthy habits and routines that have helped you adjust to the job, and maybe pick up some tips from others, too.
18. Try to Get Some Sun
Those working night shifts are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies 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 cope with night shift hours and adjusting your schedule to support a healthy lifestyle.
20. Talk to a Doctor
Headaches, insomnia, and nausea are just some of the symptoms someone can experience when taking on night shifts. Give yourself a month or so, and if these symptoms persist or worsen, seek out a doctor for advice. They may be able to advise you on how to better manage your symptoms.
Though you may be satisfied with your salary, just keep in mind that nothing is more valuable than your mental and physical health. With these tips and tricks, you can take on your night shifts knowing you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up for success throughout the night.