Are you a shift worker? Here are some tips to feeling well when working 24/7.
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Natural and holistic health is all about working with the body and its natural rhythms and cycles. Shift work goes against this completely. It’s no wonder that shift workers are at a greater risk of anxiety, depression, obesity, diabetes an overall a poorer quality of life. But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t strategies that you can put into place if you’re a shift worker to feel better and improve your overall health and longevity! Below are my top tips to achieve this.
1. Plan your meals well in advance
While there are some healthy takeaway options these days, when you’re working through the night, chances are that those places are well and truly closed. Maccas, hospital food, vending machines or snacks from the servo simply won’t cut it. Prepare for your shifts so that you have healthy snacks and meals on hand. Don’t ever let yourself get into a food-emergency, because the only options you’ll have won’t be great ones!
2. Intermittent fast
Click here to read my blog about the benefits of intermittent fasting. Now eating overnight really messes with the body’s metabolic rhythms, which is why shift-workers are far more likely to develop obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance. But one way to mitigate this risk is by maintaining a large, 10-12 hour gap between eating over a 24-hour period. There are a few different ways to do this.
Fast between 7am - 7pm when you are sleeping and preparing for your night shift.
Fast between 8pm and 8am. Eat a hearty, early dinner before you head off for your night shift, have a high protein-low fibre snack just before 8pm and maintain your fasting until your shift is over. There is evidence that eating after 8pm significantly increases your chances of diabetes, insulin resistance and weight gain. This is why I’ve chosen 8pm.
If you cannot fast overnight, simply maintain the 16:8 rule of fasting on your days off. For more details, read here.
3. Have regular, good quality sleep on your days off
Maintaining healthy circadian rhythms where you sleep when the sun sets and wake when the sun rises is extremely beneficial for your health. It will improve your mood and energy immensely, who doesn’t want that?! A great strategy when waking up in the mornings is to have sun exposure within 30 minutes of waking. Evidence has shown that this increases both your cognitive and physical alertness and will help you feel energised and ready to face the day. So try and maintain a habit of getting outside, sitting on your porch with a cuppa first thing in the morning to get those day-time hormones flowing.
4. Exercise regularly
This is probably a no-brainer, but it is even more important for shift workers! As mentioned before, shift workers are at an increased risk of obesity and diabetes because of their night-time feeding habits and disrupted sleep cycles. Try and exercise on your days off, or schedule in exercise around your daily schedule. For example, if it is possible to walk or ride your bike to work, take advantage of this. Exercising also improves mood and sleep quality.
5. Implement de-stress strategies
For many shift workers, the type of work they do can be quite stressful, particularly if you are working in emergency services. Have a good think about what helps you feel relaxed. Write down at least 3 de-stress strategies and try to implement 1 of those each day.
6. Maintain adequate hydration on night shifts
No, I’m not talking about caffeine (sorry!). When we disrupt our sleep cycles and eat at unnatural times of the day, our digestive system suffers. Many shift workers experience IBS because of this. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water overnight to keep your bowels moving, because they get kind of lazy at nighttime when you’re supposed to be sleeping!
I truly hope these tips have been helpful for all those important people out there working shift work so that the rest of society can function as it does. If you’re a shift worker and want some targeting health advice so you can feel your best self, click here for details about how you can see me in clinic for a consultation!
I want to focus my treatment on this much-neglected group; shift workers. In order that I may tailor my future services to the specific needs and problems faced by shift workers, please fill out this 2 minute survey to help me do that! CLICK HERE.