While most of us log off from work when the clock strikes six at night, many others are just about to start their jobs. These are the medical workers, call center employees, law enforcement and security personnel – these are the people who keep themselves busy at night while we’re all slumbering peacefully in our beds.
Night shift workers like them should pay close attention to how they’re managing their time at work and at home. Experts agree that their unusual schedules leave them much more susceptible to diseases such as obesity, heart disease, ulcers and diabetes. That’s because they’re working against nature – our body’s own internal clock, the circadian rhythm which regulates hormones, metabolism and other biological processes get disrupted with the workers’ inverted schedules. Barbara Phillips, medical director of University of Kentucky’s sleep labs says, “Being awake in the dark and trying to sleep during the day affects secretion of many hormones and chemicals, and this disruption (is) part of the problem.”
Late night jobs also take a toll on a person’s mental health. Memory and concentration gets affected as evidenced by a study conducted in 2012 by the Academic Emergency Medicine Journal which administered several cognition tests to emergency physicians before and after their night shifts. One of the tests focused on how well they could remember words. The study revealed that after their shifts ended, doctors could recall significantly fewer words compared to the doctors who worked a day shift.
Fortunately there are measures that night shift workers can take to minimize the harmful effects that their schedule can do to their bodies.
Before you go to work
Setting the mood – Condition yourself to get energized even when the day’s just about to wind down. Alert yourself at the start of your work day by making your surroundings as bright as possible. This will suppress your body’s natural secretion of melatonin – a hormone that is induced by darkness and which triggers sleep.
Eat a meal – Just like your fellow employees who are on a regular shift are advised to eat breakfast before working, start your day right with a good meal. Choose healthy food choices for your dinner to help you stay energized throughout your shift. Lean protein like fish and chicken are good bets. Vegetables, whole grains and fruits are also recommended. Avoid fast food or sweet treats as much as possible – these food types can give you a quick boost of energy but they can also make you crash down and feel sluggish as soon as the effect wears off. Plus, the late hours mean your metabolism is at its low points making them harder to burn.
Do some light exercises – Another way to perk yourself up for your shift is to do some stretching and light exercises. Doing so pumps up your body and readies your mind for your tasks for the night.
Let there be light – Make your place of work as bright as possible. Again, this will suppress the production of melatonin which is nature’s way of signaling us to sleep at night. Once you’re nearing the end of your shift, gradually dim your lights as a way to condition your body to relax and prepare itself for sleep.
Perk yourself up with coffee – Caffeine is every night shift worker’s best friend… but be careful about drinking too much of it. Keep yourself alert throughout your shift by drinking coffee but know that its effect can last for up to six hours, so avoid drinking when your shift’s about to end. Experts also recommend having no more than 200 mg to 300 mg of caffeine a day, which adds up to between two and four cups (depending on coffee brand and cup size).
Snack on healthy food options – It’s tempting to just get food from the vending machine down the hall or have a nearby fast food joint deliver to your workplace, but remember that junk food just won’t cut it. To keep yourself alert throughout your shift – the right way – pack yourself with snacks that are healthy. Sandwiches that are high in fiber and protein are good picks.
Exercise in place – Keep yourself alert and get the blood flowing in your body by doing some exercises.
Take a nap at work – A 15-25 minute nap during your shift can help do wonders on your concentration and alertness. Thankfully, most workplaces operating on a 24-hour basis (hospitals, BPOs) as well as top companies in the US address this need by providing sleeping areas in their premises.
Block off sunlight as much as possible – Induce sleep once you’re done with work by trying different tricks to block off sunlight as much as possible. It starts with putting on sunglasses once you step out of your workplace. Once you get home, draw the blinds and keep your curtains closed to prevent sunlight from streaming in your bedroom. Maintain your room at a cool temperature to simulate the night time.
Eat light meals to end the day – Replenish your energy by having a light meal to end your day, but make sure you do it two hours before you sleep. You’ll have a hard time falling asleep if you’re full.
During the weekend
Stick to your schedule – You may be tempted to rewire your sleep schedule during the weekends by staying up during the day and sleeping at night, however this strategy may be more problematic as it will only wreak havoc on your established schedule. Don’t bring in additional stress to yourself by changing up your sleeping patterns during the weekends.
Get your family’s support – Be clear about what you need from them and have them respect your privacy during the daytime when you are resting. If you have family, make arrangements with them, particularly with your partner on making adjustments regarding childcare and scheduling. Once you’ve earned leave privileges, use them as a chance to spend time with your loved ones.
Getting used to a night shift is indeed challenging but with enough practice and discipline, it’s something that is perfectly manageable. Try our tips and see your habits and productivity improve. Good night!
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