In recent times, the trend of working night shifts has increased a lot.
In fact, many Americans are doing jobs at night that were traditionally done during the regular workday hours of 9 to 5.
Working night shifts can be good from a financial aspect, but such jobs are not good from a health aspect.
A study published in Safety and Health at Work in 2010 reports that night shifts are a risk factor for health and well-being, at both social and psychophysical levels, starting from a disruption of biological circadian rhythms and sleep/wake cycle and ending in several psychosomatic troubles and disorders, likely also including cancer, and extending to impairment of performance efficiency as well as family and social life (1).
A 2014 study published in Rehabilitation Nursing reports that shift work and long work hours for nurses increase the risk for reduced performance on the job, obesity, injuries and a wide range of chronic diseases (2).
In an age of fast economic change, it may not possible to quit jobs with night shifts. You may also be a victim of drawbacks related to night shifts. If so, there are certain useful tips that can benefit you.
Here are some tips to stay healthy when working night shifts.
1. Take Frequent Breaks
Whether you are working a 9-to-5 job or night shifts, taking frequent breaks is a must.
The break can be 10 to 20 minutes for every one hour of work, depending upon whether you are sitting most of the time or involved in monotonous or hazardous work.
Taking breaks can protect you from the potential hazards of hours of sitting every day. It helps boost creativity and passion, refresh your attention span and sustain concentration, lower your body mass index, keep your eyes happy and healthy, and can help with memory and learning.
2. Exercise When You Can
Working night shifts does not mean that you can skip exercising. Regular exercise helps your body adapt to stressful circumstances, including the night shift’s nontraditional sleep schedule. It even boosts your immunity, keeps you alert, and improves your concentration and memory.
While it is true that working nontraditional hours may wreak havoc on your exercise routine, you still need to take time to do some exercise on a daily basis.
If you work the night shift, it is important to find a workout time that fits into your schedule.
You can exercise right before or after work by spending 30 minutes performing some form of cardiovascular activity, such as swimming, bike riding or playing a sport.
It is even possible to get some exercise during your shift. On your breaks, go for short walks or take the stairs in your office as much as possible.
You can also try some yoga before going to bed.
3. Stick to a Regular Sleep Pattern
People doing night shifts suffer from sleep-related issues, as the body clock finds it difficult to adjust to sleeping during daylight. Also, those working night shifts get far fewer hours of shut eye a week than their day-working colleagues.
But no matter what, you must get the sleep your body needs or you may be at a higher risk of suffering from obesity, heart disease, stress and other health issues.
To get the much-needed sleep, stick to a routine. Try to eat and sleep around the same times, seven days a week.
During the daytime, there can be lots of disturbances that keep you from getting sound sleep. Hence, sleep in a quiet room with minimum sunlight to have sufficient uninterrupted sleep.
Even exercising in the morning after your shift ends can help your body realize it is time to rest. The best exercise that you can do is running, spinning or kickboxing.
Before going to sleep, eat breakfast to avoid waking due to hunger.
4. Limit Your Caffeine Intake
While doing night shift jobs, people tend to keep on drinking coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages to help them stay alert.
But drinking excess caffeine can be bad for your health. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to eight hours and affect your sleep.
A 2009 study published in Sleep Medicine reports that night-shift workers should avoid drinking coffee to improve their sleep. The caffeine in coffee interferes with sleep, and this side effect worsens as people age (3).
If you like coffee, drink no more than two to three small cups of regular coffee a day. However, it’s better to switch to decaffeinated drinks or unsweetened herbal tea.
5. Check Your Vitamin D Level
Working nights can mean reduced exposure to daylight. This can lead to a vitamin D deficiency, which is linked to a vast range of health risks, including a number of cancers.
Vitamin D also plays an important role in the absorption of calcium in the body. Night-shift workers may be at higher risk for thinning of the bones from inadequate vitamin D.
This is why it becomes important to get your vitamin D level checked regularly and, in case of a deficiency, consult your doctor about taking a supplement.
While taking a supplement is fine, there is nothing more helpful than exposure to sunlight to help your body produce vitamin D. So, whenever possible, expose your body to early morning sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes.
You can also consume foods rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, and foods fortified with vitamin D such as some cereals, dairy products and range juice.
6. Choose Healthy Foods
What you eat makes a big difference in your health. As a night-shift worker, you are already at risk of several health problems. Do not make your condition worse by eating unhealthy foods.
Eat healthy foods as much as possible. Choose whole foods, vegetables, lean protein, eggs, nuts and antioxidant-rich foods as often as possible.
Carry your own healthy snacks to work, such as an apple with a small piece of low-fat cheese or a handful of nuts with low-fat yogurt.
At the same time, avoid sugary foods like soft drinks, bakery items, sweets and non-fiber carb foods (high glycemic index) like white bread. Also, avoid eating fatty and fried foods, especially at night as they can also increase your risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
In particular, avoid foods that are high in iron at night, as such foods can disrupt the liver’s circadian rhythm.
7. Maintain Regular Mealtimes
Night-shift work can play havoc with your dietary health.
In a 2017 study published in Current Biology, researchers found that delaying mealtimes or having meals at irregular times can affect the internal body rhythms. The study reports that a five-hour delay in mealtimes causes a five-hour delay in blood glucose rhythms (4).
It is recommended to eat meals at the same time each day, seven days a week. This schedule helps maintain the body’s clock.
Try to eat breakfast after you get home, a light meal after waking up and your “main meal” before going to work.
Have healthy snacks during your shift and avoid eating large meals during the night that can cause heartburn, gas or constipation.
Moreover, do not eat in a hurry. Take your time and chew your food properly before swallowing it.
8. Enjoy a Social Life
If you work unsocial hours, it can be hard to fit in a social life. But no matter how busy your schedule is, you need to devote time for a social life.
Maintaining a good social life is good for your mental health and your relationships. Time spent with family and friends will help you feel relaxed and keep stress at bay.
If you cannot devote quantity of time, opt for quality time with your friends and family members.
For instance, a small tea party at your place during the weekend or a short get-together at the shopping mall can help you stay in touch with your friends and loved ones.
- Shift Work and Health: Current Problems and Preventive Actions. Safety and Health at Work. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2093791110120034. Published May 02, 2013.
- Negative Impacts of Shiftwork and Long Work Hours. Rehabilitation nursing : the official journal of the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629843/. Published 2014.
- Coffee And Nighttime Jobs Don’t Mix, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091103112239.htm. Published November 04, 2009.
- Meal Timing Regulates the Human Circadian System. Current biology : CB. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28578930. Published June 19, 2017.