Wellness tips for shift workers
“As long as a person works irregular hours, they will have to deal with burnout and fatigue,” says Teresa McCormack, Registered Nurse with Occupational Health and Safety at The Scarborough Hospital. “Shifts can drastically affect a person’s health and safety, so it’s vital for shift workers to make a concentrated effort to develop coping strategies to take care of themselves.”
Teresa adds that shift work can affect all aspects of a person’s health, including physical, mental and social. So while there’s no magic plan that will alleviate all the stress and fatigue associated with an irregular work schedule, Teresa suggests the following tips to help maintain an appropriate work-life balance.
- Sleep. Constantly changing the natural rhythm of your sleep cycle can cause sleep deprivation and lead to serious consequences in your overall well-being. Also as you age, it becomes more difficult for your body to adjust to ongoing disruption.
- Develop a bedtime ritual to help you fall asleep even if it’s at different times throughout the day.
- Ensure your bedroom is quiet, comfortable and as dark as possible.
- Maintain a sleep schedule as much as you can by consistently going to sleep and waking up at the same times for each shift you work. For example, if your night shift ends at 7 a.m., go to sleep by 9 a.m. and wake up at 5 p.m. each time you work that shift.
- If possible, choose rotations that are less frequent so your internal clock has time to adjust in between.
- A 20 to30 minute nap before the beginning of a shift can help re-energize your body and mind.
- Avoid alcohol. While a drink or two can help you relax, it ultimately affects the overall quality of your sleep.
- Medication can be helpful as a last resort. However, it can become ineffective after two to four weeks of consistent use and stop working altogether.
- If you have trouble waking up, get outside! Fresh air and sunshine can help shake your grogginess.
- Nutrition. Sometimes working the night shift can result in poor food choices often due to the limited options available after business hours including fast food chains and vending machines.
- To ensure a healthy and well-balanced meal during a late-night shift, pack your own.
- Eat smaller portions than you normally would during the day or rather than eating full meals, bring a few healthy snacks to munch on throughout the night.
- Avoid late night caffeine. Drinking lots of water keeps you hydrated, which can help boost your energy level. Avoiding late-night caffeinated drinks can also improve your sleep.
- Exercise. As if fitting exercise into a regular day isn’t difficult enough, trying to maintain a work-out schedule with shift work can be extra tricky. However, ensuring regular exercise can drastically improve your sleep, energy level and mood.
- Get into the habit of exercising before you go to work, whether it’s in the morning, afternoon or evening. A brief 20 to30 minute exercise routine before you get ready for your shift is enough to stay healthy.
- If possible, walk or ride your bike to work. Both are low impact cardio exercises that shouldn’t leave you too breathless when you arrive.
- Take a brisk walk around your workplace during your break. You can also get into the habit of doing a few exercises in your office or make good use of your company gym or a nearby 24-hour gym.
- Get together with a colleague who shares all or many of your shift rotations and make a pact to exercise together during breaks. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to stay motivated when working out with a buddy.
- Social. Shift work can interfere with your relationships, most importantly those with your family and close friends. If you often work the night shift, then you’re working while others are sleeping and vice versa, so making plans can be difficult. Irregular shifts or rotations can also negatively affect your mood and you may become withdrawn.
- Share your work schedule so your loved ones are aware when you are working and when you have free time. Plan gatherings at different times of the day such as a breakfast date or an afternoon movie.
- Many people cannot afford to give up overtime if the opportunity knocks, but once in awhile, it may be wise to say thanks but no thanks to the extra hours and spend that time connecting with others.
- Make an extra effort to plan dates with friends or book family time. Also try not to skip vacations as this is quality time for you to relax, spend time with loved ones and re-energize.
- If you’re at work during bedtime or breakfast hours, give your partner and/or kids a call to say good night or good morning. Your relationships will benefit greatly from this small gesture.