Working night shift plays havoc with every aspect of life, from sleep, to exercise and diet, to how we perform at work, and relationships.
There’s no denying it can be tough. It takes a special person to be able to work through the night caring for others.
It has been shown that night shift workers are at higher risk of developing a number of serious diseases, including diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, and breast cancer.
That being said, some people prefer to work night shift. It can fit in well with family responsibilities because you may be able to avoid paying for childcare. The pay rate per hour is usually higher. And some say there are fewer distractions, which means you are freer to focus on your work.
There are ways to make night shift easier, as described in a new guide put together by Regis College in the US.
Finding ways to keep your body strong, get enough sleep, and maintain a positive frame of mind are all key to making a successful transition to night shift.
1. Smaller meals, more often
We all know how a large meal makes us feel – sleepy. When working night shift, it’s preferable to eat smaller meals more often.
Eating smaller meals can not only stop us from feeling tired, it can also help to prevent weight gain – a common side effect of working at night.
2. Eat a healthy, varied diet
You might want to bring healthy food from home to eat at work. High protein foods are recommended, such as nuts, eggs, meat sandwiches, and bread or muffins spread with peanut butter or cheese. Fruit and salads are also ideal.
Don’t overload on calories, which can be a temptation when you’re feeling tired. Research has shown that eating more calories contributes to people sleeping fewer hours.
Eating a varied diet has been shown to contribute to sleeping ‘normal’ hours.
Avoid tempting low fiber foods that are high in saturated fats and sugar – cakes, biscuits and sweets. These foods are associated with lighter and more disrupted sleep.
Avoid caffeinated drinks for up to six hours before you go to bed, as caffeine can stay in your system for up to six hours.
And avoid alcohol, as it can disrupt sleep.
Before you go to sleep, eat carbohydrates, such as toast and jam. This may help you have a better night’s sleep.
3. Create a good sleep routine
How much sleep you get during the day is going to be a significant determinant of how you cope with night shift.
If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you have a higher likelihood of having an accident at work or making a mistake. Lack of sleep can affect your mood, and lead to health problems.
Establish a sleeping space. Cover windows or instal blockout curtains to prevent as much sunlight as possible from coming in. Avoid blue light before going bed. Try to minimise background noise, for example by wearing ear plugs.
Remove all screens and devices from your room.
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule, even on the days you’re not working. Sleeping at different times is associated with poorer quality sleep and increased tiredness.
When you wake up, expose yourself to light, preferably sunlight, to reset your body clock.
4. Maintain a social life
Working at night can be isolating because you’re out of sync with most other people; you’re sleeping when they’re out and about, having a good time with each other.
Communicating with your co-workers can prevent you from becoming lonely and can improve your mood. Co-workers may be also able to provide you with their own tips for working at night.
Keep in touch with friends and family, and make regular times to catch up that you can look forward to.
If you have a family, make regular times to spend with your children and partner. You may have breakfast and dinner together during the week. Outsourcing some jobs – such as supermarket shopping, cleaning, and cooking – may also help maintain a healthy work-life balance while on night shift.
Night shift workers tend to weigh more than regular workers. Limited access to quality food at night, and the difficulty of finding time to exercise, are both contributors to weight gain while on night shift.
Exercise when you can. This article lists 12 exercises that are easy to do in your workplace without too much humiliation.
Try to factor in 20 to 30 minutes of exercise three times a week. Online videos or DVDs are an easy and affordable way to develop a workout routine that suits you. Short, high intensity workouts will deliver the most observable improvements in your fitness in the shortest period.
Night shifts are often long, and they can also be irregular. Nurses and carers often have to switch from night shift one week to day shift the next. It can be extremely physically demanding.
Caring for the frail, elderly or unwell at night is an admirable job.
Prioritising your good health and wellbeing while working night shift will be the key to successfully delivering care to those who need it.