The night shift, or third shift work is a big part of many industries. There are many challenges that face those who work the night shift. The body’s normal rhythm is to sleep at night and remain active throughout the day, so doing the exact opposite can cause stress and various potential health problems—that’s the bad news. The good news is that with some adjustments to your habits, such as those outlined here, you can minimize these potential side effects and remain healthy, able to work well, and able to enjoy your days off too.
Here are four health tips to help get you through that night shift:
Tip 1: Have Energy When You Need It by Eating Right
One of the biggest issues night shift workers face is a lack of energy, or energy at the wrong times. Some night shift workers find it hard to stay awake at work, especially when performing sedentary jobs. They may also find that when they get home after the graveyard shift, their minds and bodies can’t shut down to rest. While some may use various over-the-counter remedies and aids to regulate their energy patterns, there are ways to address this issue without medication.
One way to establish regular energy and sleep patterns is to maintain a regular schedule of healthy eating habits. Maintaining a “regular” sleep schedule is relative. You can reset your normal sleep cycles by regularly repeating a series of healthy habits, helping your body to realize when it is time to wake and when it is time to rest—even if the sun doesn’t agree.
Eating healthy meals at a set time each day can help your body regulate. Your breakfast time may be 9 PM, with lunch at 4 AM and dinner at 8 AM, for example. Having a regular rhythm of healthy, non-sugary meals that include lots of protein can help keep you going strong through the night. Healthy, intermittent snacks also provide a natural energy boost.
Tip 2: Regulate Your Schedule with Exercise
We all know that getting enough sleep is essential to our health, but his can be especially challenging for night shift workers. This tip may seem counter intuitive, but exercising in the morning, after your shift ends, can really help your body realize it is time to rest. The best exercise will likely be something very active, like running, spinning, or kickboxing. This is not the time for yoga or meditation. The burst of energy you will start to get during each exercise session will carry you through the routine and you will be ready for sleep after your workout.
Tip 3: Modify Your Sleep Patterns…with a Little Wiggle Room
Another sleep-based issue for the health and wellbeing of night shift workers is disruption of their “normal” sleep pattern on their days off. Let’s face it—for most people, life happens during the day, and so night shift workers often feel like they should enjoy their day off, literally, with family and friends. This can cause a vicious cycle where, just as you are getting into a rhythm regarding sleep patterns, you push through your “normal” bedtime to stay awake during the day and throw off the rhythm again.
There is a middle-of-the-road solution, however. Using a technique called sleep anchoring, night shift workers can designate a four hour block to sleep every single day without fail and adjust the surrounding four hours to accommodate their day-off schedule needs. For example, if you normally sleep from 11AM to 7PM on work days, you can designate 1-5PM as non-negotiable, meaning you will sleep from 1-5PM daily without fail. If your son has a 7PM game on your day off, you would sleep from 10 AM to 6PM and be up for it. If your family attends religious services at 10AM, you can sleep from 12-8PM. Any combination is allowed so long as your non-negotiable hours are some part of your eight hour total and you get all eight hours at once. This technique will make it much easier to slip back into you work sleep schedule and avoid the unwanted effects of sleep deprivation and deregulation.
Tip 4: Mind the Little Things that Cause Big Problems
Living on a schedule opposite the rest of the world can present unique challenges that disrupt sleep and potentially cause health issues. For example, most people have a quiet place to sleep at night, but the day can be a cacophony of sounds, big and small. The sounds of daytime life going on around you can be very disruptive, even if they aren’t loud. Try using earplugs if necessary, but white noise, such as a fan or white noise machine, may provide enough noise cancelling benefits to drown out the noises outside your room.
Another example of a small thing that can cause big problems is light. If the sun is up when you go to bed, your room may seem relatively dark. However, as your eyes adjust, they seek out even the smallest hint of light, which can tell the brain it’s to wake up. Simple solutions like blackout curtains and sleep masks can create a truly dark sleep environment, allowing your body to relax and rest soundly.
Lastly, everything you eat and drink can potentially impact your sleep. A few small sips of coffee or a sugary snack to get through the end of the night shift can prevent you from sleeping when you get home. Try to avoid caffeine and sugar for 6 hours before your planned sleep time. Fool your body by substituting decaf coffee/tea or try juice for a natural sugar rush if needed in that window of time. It may be tempting to grab a cup of joe when you feel sluggish, but you may pay for it later.
Again, we all know how important proper sleep patterns are and we have probably read about how healthy habits impact sleep. The difference, when it comes to health tips for the night shift worker, is that you are already fighting an uphill battle—trying to sleep when your body wants to wake. This only makes these truths even more essential to maintaining your health while working nights. It won’t be easy in the beginning, but with time, developing these small, healthy habits will have a big impact.
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