Reports show that rates of smoking, drinking, overeating and other bad habits are higher among shift workers than any other working group.

What are your bad habits?

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has worked nights, but shift workers don’t always look after themselves in the best way. Reports in the last ten years have shown consistently that shift working leads to bad diet, lack of exercise, and increased use of alcohol and tobacco.

A 2016 report showed that 1 in 3 shift workers smoke – a long way above the national average. In the last few weeks, a Korean report also found that female shift workers were much more likely to develop bad health habits than their counterparts in other jobs. This has knock-on effects on health, particularly cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It seems that shift workers, no matter what field they work in, are more likely to neglect their health than workers who are employed on a more traditional 9-5 basis.

What are the causes?

Lack of breaks, fast food and diet, lack of sleep and culture are often cited as contributing factors. But the tiredness-related problems of working long hours isn’t something new.

What has changed in recent years is an increase in more sedentary working practices, a general lack of exercise, longer work traveling times and poorer diet. All of which means that shift workers have an uphill battle to stay healthy and avoid the bad habits that are easy to fall into.

With an economy that demands a 24 hour work schedule, shift working isn’t going away. So how do shift workers cope with the issues and stay healthy?

Support is needed for shift workers

All the reports agree that shift workers have one major requirement that’s often overlooked – support.

New shift workers need support from employers and other experienced shift workers to help them adapt to shift working hours. But even experienced shift workers need the support of employers to help them create healthier habits and provide them with the facilities and infrastructure that does this.

There is no doubt that employers need to take a leading role in this area. Improving facilities for workers, such as better eating environments. Whether it be canteens or healthier vending machines. Providing better break facilities and in some cases more frequent breaks and more support activities. All these are advocated as a basic requirement to keeping a shift working workforce healthy and happy.

And, after all, it is in the interest of all parties to have a healthier, happier workforce.

What can shift workers do?

The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to avoid falling into bad habits and bad health.

Better planning is the key; the most popular things to consider are:

  • Take food with you onto your shifts so you can avoid vending machine snacking
  • Eat at regular times (where possible) – especially if you’re working a run of the same shift for a few days
  • Take regular breaks – a quick walk or few minutes breath of fresh air
  • Try these different techniques to get good quality sleep

This is such a well-known problem that there are many online resources available to help shift workers to lead healthier lifestyles, including dietary and exercise advice.

Two of the pages we like are Healthy Shift Worker – a Facebook page that gives a huge range of advice, on a mission to help those working 24/7, and Shift Work Mom who provides exercise videos and advice.

Plan to build habits

One of the main reasons we developed MyShiftPlanner, was to help shift workers improve their work/life balance.

By using MyShiftPlanner to plan activities and work shifts sufficiently in advance, our users have found that they can build a social and support life around their shift work much more easily.

Shift work isn’t going to go away. But with planning and the right support, shift workers can overcome some of the major risks, leading them to be healthy and a lot happier as a result.

Download MyShiftPlanner to help you maintain a healthier planned lifestyle alongside your shift work.