How to Stay Healthy Working on Night Shifts
According to Science, the human body is programmed to be active during the day and be on rest mode during the night. This is how the circadian rhythm works: your body’s circadian clock processes how much light you see. To put it simply, the less light you see, the more your body releases chemicals that tell you to switch to rest mode. The more you get exposed to light, the more your brain tells your body to stay awake.
Working on night shift disrupts this rhythm and it affects the way your body functions. This is why it’s important to keep a close watch on your sleeping and eating habits. Working during the night may require a lifestyle change but it’s worth it in the long run.
1. Even on your rest day, stick to your schedule.
To allow your body to get used to the schedule, you’re going to have to commit to it. Even on your rest days, keep yourself active at night and rest during the day. It may be hard because most of the social activities are done on your days off of work but if you can help it, try to stick to your body clock as much as possible.
If you work on a shifting schedule, try to cluster your night shift rounds as much as possible. This allows less changes in your rhythm.
2. Aim for better sleep quality.
Daytime sleep tends to be lighter and shorter. There are several factors that affect this like the presence of sunlight, a noisy environment, and even the temperature. Your body is battling against its natural rhythms so it’s important to be as comfortable as possible when you sleep.
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. If you can’t help the amount of light that goes into your room, use an eye mask. Put your phone away for one to two hours before you sleep and stay away from activities that keep your brain working.
You may also want to avoid smoking before going to bed since Nicotine is a form stimulant and it will only keep you awake.
3. Limit caffeine.
Okay, this may be hard for a lot of night shift workers because coffee is practically second nature by now—but too much caffeine does a lot of bad things to your body. There are many healthy alternatives to coffee that you can try; energy-rich food and drinks like apples, nuts, berries, chai tea, and lemon water among others.
If you really, really can’t help it, drink coffee five hours before your shift ends. It takes a long time for your body to get rid of the caffeine so it’s best to give your body some time to process it. Remember to also limit yourself to one cup per day.
4. Stay active.
Exercising regularly does wonders to your body. But more importantly for night shifts, it energizes your body and helps you stay up and alert during work hours.
If there are distances you can afford to walk, do so. Schedule weekly runs and try to do it as regularly as possible. You can also opt to do short, easy exercises in the office or at home before going to work—squats or leg stretches to get your blood flow healthy and steady. It’s best to do these exercises before work instead of after work because it may result to difficulties falling asleep when your adrenaline is still running high.
5. Eat healthy.
People who work during the night have a higher risk of experiencing metabolic syndrome and because the body is thrown off its balance, there’s also an increased risk of becoming overweight. That’s why it wouldn’t hurt to start getting rid of unhealthy meal and snack habits.
Consuming more fruits and vegetables is always a good idea. Remember to stick to protein food (tuna, cheese, peanuts, eggs, etc.) during your shift and steer clear of carbs. Carbs have a heavy, sedating effect that can make you feel drowsy and sleepy. Lastly, stay away from sugary and sweetened drinks especially a few hours before going to bed.
These may seem like a lot but it takes effort to battle against your body’s natural flow. It’s best to stay active and healthy to avoid long-term effects of sleep deprivation and exhaustion.
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