By Kike Adeleye, RN BSN
Shift work is any job that falls outside the standard working hours – 8 to 5. It could be regular night and evening shifts or rotating shifts between night and daytime work. About 1.8 million Canadians are shift workers making up a good proportion of the country’s population. While these jobs help pay bills, pay off debts, or increase income sources, they tremendously affect physical and emotional health. Most Canadian shift workers have difficulty sleeping, indigestion, constant tiredness, and an increased risk of chronic diseases. Shift work also affects workers’ social life.
I have worked as a shift worker, so I have a first-hand experience with the side effects of an irregular sleep pattern. If you want to improve your health and productivity, these simple lifestyle tips will help you.
1. Have a Sleep Routine
Shift workers usually have sleep disorders due to an irregular sleep-wake cycle. That is especially true for night shift workers, as around 71% reported poor-quality sleep compared with 50% of day shift workers. To maintain a healthy lifestyle as a shift worker, you should have a regular sleep pattern. Choose your sleep time wisely and stay consistent so your body can adapt to the time, aligning your body’s biological clock.
Shift workers have trouble falling asleep, so avoiding bright lights can be a great strategy. Keep the room dark when you are ready to sleep. You can use eye masks or blackout curtains. You should also turn off all screens before sleep. You can play soft music to improve your sleep quality if that helps.
Because you will be sleeping while others are awake, background noise can disrupt your sleep. To prevent that:
• Let your family know your sleep schedule so that nobody disturbs your sleep.
• Reduce environmental noise with a white noise machine or app.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
As a shift worker, you are more likely to eat unhealthy meals and snacks, considering that you may need more time to prepare wholesome meals.
To eat more healthily:
• Prepare food in advance for the coming week.
• Pack healthy and light snacks when leaving for work so you will not settle for snacks and beverages from the vending machines.
• Reduce sugary food intake as it causes an immediate spike in energy levels but can lead to sluggishness afterward.
• Avoid high-fat, fried foods as they can result in indigestion.
One study reported that Canadian shift workers had low vitamin D levels. So, you should take vitamin D supplements, as low levels can cause bone problems. Follow your doctor’s recommendation.
3. Stay Hydrated
Taking enough water during your shift helps you to stay healthy. Hydration prevents headaches during your work. When going to work, remember to carry a reusable water bottle. Replace coffee, soda, and alcohol with water. Taking fruits like apricots, blueberries, oranges, peaches, pineapples, plums, and raspberries with high water content can also help you to stay hydrated.
4. Exercise Regularly
Usually, night shift workers have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. To avoid heart problems, you should make exercise a core part of your routine. Also, exercise increases energy and alertness at work. Certain organizations supply workout equipment to encourage their workers to stay active. If your workplace does not give this benefit, consider hitting the gym, as some gyms stay open 24/7 across Canada.
• Do a Google search of 24-hour gyms in your area.
• Suppose you find exercising before your shift difficult. In that case, you can invite colleagues to join you or ask someone to keep you accountable.
• A pedometer is also a great tool to help you stay accountable. It counts the steps you take, prompting you to walk more.
Pro tip: You can install a great pedometer on your phone. Check your App store!
Importantly, your exercise time should be at least 3 hours before your sleep time so that you can fall asleep quickly.
5. Take Short Naps or Breaks in Between Work
A study showed that taking short naps during night shifts decreased sleepiness and improved alertness during work. So, try to take a short sleep during your shift. Your organization will determine the exact time for the nap. If your organization does not allow napping during shifts, consider discussing it with the management.
Aside from taking naps, you can also take short breaks. The purpose of these breaks is to keep you active and alert. Activities you can engage in at that time include stretching, walking the stairs, or discussing with your co-workers.
6. Create an Effective Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance involves dedicating sufficient time to work and other aspects of your life. While work is essential, neglecting other areas of your life, such as family and relationships, has consequences.
To achieve work-life balance, you need adequate time management, which is possible by:
• Planning daily tasks
• Prioritizing tasks
• Setting reminders. You can use digital calendars.
Outside work hours, you can create time to meet with your family and friends. Speak with your friends and let them know your schedule so they can invite you if you can attend. You can also invite them over to have lunch on other occasions. This activity will help to strengthen your relationship with your family members and friends, thus improving your mental well-being.
7. Prioritize Self-Care
“I sit in my jammies or take a walk, and I allow myself time to BE—capital B-E—with myself” – Oprah Winfrey.
Your job as a shift worker may deprive you of taking diligent care of yourself. But self-care should not be downplayed as it ensures holistic well-being and improves health. Your self-care routine may include yoga, meditation, journaling, taking a walk or bath, and engaging in your hobby. The list is endless.
In the end, self-care improves your mood, so include whatever makes you happy in your schedule.
Shift workers are most prone to stress, burnout, and other health issues because of the nature of their job. But by implementing these lifestyle tips, you could make the best out of your life and relationships and be productive at your workplace.
Helpful lifestyle tips you can implement include:
• Having a sleep routine.
• Eating healthy meals.
• Taking naps and breaks at work.
• Staying hydrated.
• Creating an effective work-life balance.
• Prioritizing self-care.
Applying these tips will help you to live a healthier life, even as a shift worker. Remember to take proper care of yourself no matter how full your schedule may be.
1. Coppeta, L., Papa, F., & Magrini, A. (2017). Are Shiftwork and Indoor Work Related to D3 Vitamin Deficiency? A Systematic Review of Current Evidences. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/8468742
2. Morris CJ, Yang JN, Scheer FAJL. The impact of the circadian timing system on cardiovascular and metabolic function. Prog Brain Res.2012; 199:337-358. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22877674/
3. Qanash, S., Alwafi, H., Barasheed, S., Bashnaini, S., Andergiri, R., Yaghmour, L., Murad, W., Shabrawishi, M., Naser, A. Y., & Alsywid, B. (2020). Original research: Impact of night shifts on sleeping patterns, psychosocial and physical well-being among healthcare professionals: a cross-sectional study in a tertiary hospital in Saudi Arabia. BMJ Open, 11(9). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-046036
4. Sallinen M, Härmä M, Akerstedt T, Rosa R, Lillqvist O. Promoting alertness with a short nap during a night shift. J Sleep Res. 1998 Dec;7(4):240-7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9844850/
Kike Adeleye, RN BSN, is a clinical instructor at the Saskatchewan Polytechnic. When she is not preparing competent practitioners for their health care practice, you can find her writing health content for her freelance business, www.copyredefined.com, or crafting with her two boys.