If you’re one of the millions of people forced to work the night shift, then you know it can be a real challenge.
Not only are you expected to be productive and energetic during a time when most of the world’s asleep, you’re also stuck battling your internal clock – and that battle can come with some pretty hefty side effects.
For one, your body is programmed to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light. Fighting this urge can lead to insomnia and poor digestion, and it can mean less sleep in the long run.
And less sleep doesn’t just mean you’re tired and less alert at work the next night, it also comes with a whole slew of health problems, too. It can affect your mental ability, lead to weight gain, and weaken your immune system, all of which make you unhealthy and unhappy in the long run.
Fortunately, quitting your job isn’t the only option for combatting the unfortunate effects of the night shift. Instead, just follow these quick and easy tips to stay healthy despite your unique schedule:
Sleep as soon as you can
Once you’re off work, hit the hay as soon as you’re able. You don’t want to do chores, run errands or socialize, as these things will only wake you up and cause insomnia. Schedule time to do these before your shift, and make sure you get the proper amount of sleep first.
Change your eating habits
In addition to adjusting your sleep schedule to your work, you’ll also need to adjust your meal times, too. Make sure to avoid eating at the end of your shift, as the food will just sit in your stomach, undigested for hours while you sleep. This can lead to aches and pains and, sometimes, even weight gain.
Avoid the outdoors
If the sun’s up when you leave work, limit your exposure as much as possible. Once your body is exposed to the sun’s rays, it will immediately become more alert and awake, making insomnia inevitable. Wear sunglasses, put on a hat or pull down that shade on your commute home.
Focus on complex carbs
For long-lasting energy, rely on complex carbohydrates during your shift. Sweet potatoes are a great choice, and they can keep you full and alert for hours at a time. Try to avoid sugary and processed foods, as these will only provide a quick, short-lasting burst of energy.
Block out the light
Limit your exposure to the sun at home, too. Install blackout curtains, close the blinds and wear and eye mask – whatever you can think to keep the bright daylight at bay.
Steer clear of caffeine
You might think you need caffeine to stay up through your shift, but it really does more harm than good. Caffeine leads to long-lasting jitters that can make it hard to fall asleep and stay sleep, and it can be addictive.
Work in exercise during your shift
If it’s possible, work in a few quick exercises while you’re at work. Take a 10-minute break and walk around the building or do some pushups on the floor of your office. These exercises won’t just help keep you alert, they’ll also help you sleep better when the time comes.
Avoid sleep aids
Sleep aids may work in a pinch, but if you rely on them too much, then your internal clock will never adjust to your night owl schedule. Give your body time, and stick to sleeping the natural way. It will pay off in the end.
Make eating healthy easy
When you’re strapped for time, it can be easy to just grab food from a vending machine or drive through McDonald’s. While this might not hurt you once or twice, if it becomes a habit, it can be hugely detrimental to your health in the long run. It can mean a higher chance of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, it can cause high cholesterol and weight gain, and it can make sleeping even more difficult than it already is. To combat this, make healthy eating easy on yourself. Stock your desk with apples, oranges and trail mix, and prepare your lunches and dinners ahead of time, so there’s no room for error.
If you want to keep your energy levels up, you need to stay hydrated at all times. Bring a water bottle with you to work, and make it a point to drink 2 to 3 liters of water a day. This will help your body flush out any toxins, and it will help you feel more energized and alert throughout the shift.
The truth is working the night shift can be a challenge to your health. It can make it hard to get the sleep you need, consume the right foods, and get the proper amount of physical activity.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you’re a night-shifter, try working these tips into your daily life, and enjoy the health benefits that follow. Do you have any health tips that I missed? Share them with me in the comments!