It’s that time of year! Colds coughs and snuffles are beginning to break out as Autumn kicks in. If you’re working shifts round the clock, staying healthy can seem like an uphill struggle. But here are some simple tips for surviving the slog as the nights draw in.
Shift Work Health Tips
If your job kicks off just when everyone else is heading to bed, and you’re sleeping when the world is up and about, you’re at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting off the common cold.
It’s widely reported that shift workers suffer more illness and rack up more sick days than most other workers. Lack of sleep, poor diet and lack of time to exercise all contribute towards a lower immunity and higher susceptibility to illness of all sorts.
Keeping yourself healthy on shift work is no mean feat. But there are some simple tips for shift workers that can help you stave off the flu this winter.
Working unsociable hours means that you end up delaying meals. When the sun goes down, our bodies naturally want to sleep, rather than eat. But if you do put off eating, it can really mess with your body clock and your health.
Research from 2017 showed that when shift workers delay a meal by five hours, it causes a five-hour delay in blood glucose rhythms as well. Working the night shift, it’s easy to let blood sugar levels dip lower than they should. And then to supplement by eating unhealthy snacks.
By missing out on meals and particularly healthy options, we put ourselves much more at risk of colds and minor illness, as well as the bigger issues of sleep disorders.
Preparing meals in advance really helps to make sure you get the best balance of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables.
All employees are due breaks during a shift. The breaks you given, depend on your employment contract and also the legal amounts for your country of work.
In the UK, you are entitled to at least 20 minds if the working day is longer than six hours. Those doing monotonous or hazardous work must be given more.
Rest is essential for maintaining health. It’s when we consistently push through tiredness that our bodies start to feel the strain.
Even light forms of exercise can have a positive effect on your health. You may not feel like hitting the gym straight off the back of the nightshift. But any activity will help you stay healthier.
There are excellent short routines on YouTube and some great tips on Shift Worker forums, such as The Other Shift.
Exercise isn’t just about physical health, either. Activities such as swimming and running are excellent for clearing the mind as well as keeping your body in trim. But even walking and yoga can be highly beneficial as a potential anti-depressant action.
Every shift worker knows that sleeping during the day is very difficult. The distractions of noise and light can be overcome partly with ear plugs or eye pads. But nothing helps when your body is telling you it’s time to be awake and you’re desperately trying to sleep.
Lack of quality sleep can have long-term effects. Good sleep is vital for health. Shift work sleep disorder is very common and linked to a number of lasting health issues, including heart disease, diabetes etc.
Sleeping in a darkened room with lined curtains can help. As can forgoing coffee and drinking herb tea or decaffeinated drinks before bed.
Meditation apps can help you wind down. But, so can switching off your phone completely!
Shift workers regularly feel isolated. If you work unsocial hours, nightshifts and weekends, it becomes very hard to fit in a social life.
Feeling isolated and worrying about it is not good for your mental health and can have a knock-on effect on relationships.
It is very important to find the time to spend with family and friends. But quality rather than quantity needs to be the focus. Making those moments when you are together fun and enough rather than stressed and guilt-inducing.
Time with family and friends requires more effort when you are a shift worker but it is not impossible. That’s why using apps like MyShiftPlanner can help you plan your time off more effectively and make the most of the days when you don’t have a shift to go to.
In Summary …
Staying healthy is vital if you are going to survive and manage your shift work. There’s all sorts of tools and advice out there. This fantastic blog from Emma at theothershift.com goes into great detail about how to manage your health on shift work.
In some cases, night shift workers in the UK may also be entitled to a free health assessment. So it’s important to make sure you know your rights and make the most of what is being offered to you.
Spending a little bit of time each day focussing on your health can make all the difference when it comes to fighting off the colds this season.
If you’ve got any tips or thoughts on how to be healthy when you’re on shift work, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below!