Adhering to healthy lifestyle habits can prove to be a challenge even in the most conducive environment. Trying to stay fit and healthy while working a shift that goes against your body's natural sleep/wake cycle can seem to be near impossible. According to the Bureau of Labor Satistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 15% of American full-time wage and salary workers follow a schedule other than the typical "9 to 5" business day, with 4.7% working evening shifts and 3.2% working night shifts (the remaining 3.1% work employer-arranged odd schedules and 2.5% work rotating shifts). Data from the BLS reveals that service occupations (e.g., hospital personnel, police, firefighters, etc.,) have the greatest prevalence of shift work, followed by food preparation and serving jobs, then transportation and manufacturing work.
Night shift work has long been associated with health and safety issues. Compared to employees who are on the job during traditional business hours, individuals who work the night shift not only get less hours of sleep, but they also experience fewer hours of restful sleep. Lack of sleep is associated with higher rates of obesity, anxiety, depression, and mood disturbances (e.g., irritability and impatience). Other common health conditions among night shift workers include:
- cardiovascular disease
- gastrointestinal complications (e.g., heartburn, indigestion, etc.,)
- high blood pressure
- increased incidence of substance abuse
- chronic fatigue
- menstrual irregularities
- increased risk for work-related accidents/injuries
What can be done to reduce your risk for these health conditions and to improve your well-being?
- Protect your Sleep: You may find that you experience the deepest sleep if you set a bedtime for mid-afternoon, when many individuals experience a midday low in their circadian rhythm. Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Eliminating noise, such as turning off the phone's ringer, and blocking out other sounds with ear plugs or "white noise" (e.g., a fan) can help. Sleep in an environment that is dark (use room darkening shades or wear an eye mask), well-ventilated, and cool.
- Watch your Consumption of Foods and Beverages: Avoid drinking caffeinated and alcoholic drinks during the later part of your shift which can interfere with the quality of your sleep later. Heavy, greasy foods will also interrupt your sleep and, therefore, should be avoided. Sugary foods may give you an initial boost of energy, but will eventually lead to a drastic drop, increasing your risk for fatigue on the job. The best way to ensure that you eat a healthy diet is to avoid buying items from vending machines and fast food restaurants during your shift. Instead, prepare and pack your own low-calorie, nutrient-dense meals and snacks to eat while at work.
- Exercise: Regular exercise is important for your well-being. The timing of your workout session is key. Because exercise raises your body temperature and can make you more alert, a session before you begin work may be ideal in order to perform your best on the job. If you are unable to exercise prior to the start of your shift, try to exercise - such as walking the halls - during your breaks or "lunch hour." But, because exercise can have an energizing effect, you will want to avoid exercising at least 3 hours before you intend to sleep. This will allow enough time for your body temperature to drop, making sleep disturbance less likely.
- "Wind-down" After Work: Practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and/or deep breathing exercises after work and before going to sleep. Allowing yourself to get rid of work-related stress will help you to fall, and stay, asleep. Decreasing your stress levels will also reduce the likelihood of emotional eating which can result in the over-consumption of calories and weight gain.
The key to staying fit and healthy while working the night shift is to adhere to a routine. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and exercise regimen will lower your risk for chronic health conditions and work-related injuries, alleviate stress, boost your mood, and provide you with the energy you need to perform at your best.
Labels: health, night shift, shift work