5 health tips for night shift workers

A wide variety of essential workers live that #nightshiftlife. From hospital workers to grocery stockers, burning the midnight oil is just part of the job. But shift work comes with some unique challenges.

Besides the obvious exhaustion and disruption to routines, shift work can have more serious impacts. Mariana G. Figueiro, Ph.D., is the director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a professor of architecture who’s studied the health consequences of shift work work and melatonin levels in shift workers.

“Being exposed to light while working during the night for extended periods of time will be problematic if the light is bright enough to suppress melatonin and delay sleep,” says Figueiro. “If this is done for many years, the suppression of melatonin and the disruption of the circadian system has been linked to increased risk for diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.”

That’s why she’s been recommending changes in lighting designs in hospitals and developing resources for shift workers. While you can’t control your hospital’s design, there are some things you can do to mitigate those risks and stay healthy. Check out the tips below.

1. Opt for more steady rotations.

When signing up for shifts, see if you can work a steady rotation for several weeks at a time instead of changing every week. This will help you create a more stable pattern and avoid changing your working, sleeping, and eating patterns multiple times a month.

2. Sleep when you can.

The average person needs about eight hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. But getting that sleep is easier said than done. “The main issue is that their biological clock is in a daytime mode and it will be sending them a strong alerting effect while they are trying to maintain sleep,” says Figueiro. If you can't sleep for that long in one stretch after work, try to take naps during the day that add up to the recommended eight hours.

3. Avoid energy drinks.

When you’re trying to stay awake, it can be tempting to reach for those mega doses of caffeine in energy drinks. But try to resist. “While energy drinks provide energy, they don’t provide nutrition,” says Luke Corey, an EXOS registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine in Minneapolis. “And increased consumption leads to increased tolerance, which means you need to drink more to get the same effect. That can lead to serious issues such as impaired sleep, bigger crashes, and dehydration.”

Instead he recommends trying to eat at regular times (more on this later), including key nutrients such as protein, carbs, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water.

4. Set the stage for proper sleep.

The right environment can help you sleep longer and sounder. At home, Figueiro recommends keeping your room very dark with blackout shades or sleep masks and asking family members to keep as quiet as they can. She also recommends starting to reduce light exposure in the last two hours of your shift. You can do this by wearing orange-tinted glasses, which can help block blue light from daylight.

5. Keep a consistent eating schedule.

Sleep deprivation disturbs your appetite, which can lead to increased feelings of hunger or make you want to reach for sugary foods. Get all the nutrients you need to perform your best by planning out well-balanced meals and snacks.

“Your body is very in tune with your eating schedule,” says Corey. “Maintaining a consistent eating schedule allows your body to adapt to your feeding times and helps prevent hunger pains that can divert your attention from the important work you are doing.”

Eat dinner before starting your shift and snack every two to three hours during it to stay focused and energized. This way you won't be tempted to eat a heavy meal at the end of your shift.

Interested in more ways to stay strong and healthy? Visit exosathome.com for daily workouts, mindset practices, and more.

About the Author

Kelsey Webb

As an editorial assistant at EXOS, I'm eager to help others improve every aspect of their lives through healthy living. I enjoy bringing effective strategies and information to light by working with experts in all fields.

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