As the economy continues to recover and companies struggle to remain competitive, more and more people find themselves put into the stressful situation of doing shift work. Even seniors may face working night shifts if they’re employed in the retail, grocery, or service industry.
Working two weeks of day shifts, followed by two weeks of night shifts and then switching to afternoons can be very tough on the body. First and foremost, sleep is disrupted. This one factor alone can cause considerable health problems due to fatigue.
Constantly changing your sleep times also disrupts the way your nervous system functions as well as your endocrine system, which is responsible for releasing the right amount of hormones at the right times. Shift work also takes a well-documented toll on your immune system. And, shift work can increase the amount of oxidative stress your body has to combat.
All of these stresses can up your risk for some pretty serious diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. That’s why there’s a week dedicated to occupational safety and health so here are some tips for minimizing the negative health effects of shift work:
- When you work a night shift, you (and everyone close to you) have to learn to respect your need for sleep. Your sleep time isn’t negotiable just because you’re sleeping during the day, for example. Aim for eight hours of sleep. Don’t make the mistake of getting up after three or four hours of sleep because there are all kinds of things you need to get done. Turn the ringer on your phone off. Use black-out curtains in the bedroom. Don’t deal with any other aspects of your life until you wake up rested.
- Eat a healthy diet. There’s no getting around this. Shift workers need to be really careful with their diet. Coffee and sugar may seem to give you a temporary boost after a night shift, but this burst of energy won’t last. Nor will it fortify the rest of your body which needs extra nutritional health. Aim for a high protein, high fiber meal after a night shift which will give you a steady source of energy once you’re awake.
- Keep hydrated by drinking water. The last thing you need when you’re feeling drowsy after working different shifts is to be dehydrated. Dehydration will also make you feel sluggish. Don’t let this state compound the jet lag you’re feeling from switching around your sleeping times.
- Avoid bright light after a night shift. Put on sunglasses before leaving work. Keep your body programmed for sleep by heading straight to your darkened bedroom. Remember to exercise caution when driving home from a night shift.
- Melatonin can help regulate your sleep. Get your doctor’s advice about taking this supplement.