How to Work Night Shift and Stay Healthy
Is working the night shift causing sleep deprivation and other undesirable side effects? Know you are not alone and adopting these tips can improve physical, emotional, and mental health!
Are you working the night shift? Many people who work in the PM wonder how to work the night shift and stay healthy when it seems like everyone else is awake during the day.
Luckily, there is evidence-based advice that can help you achieve your best health. Read on for the top five health tips for night shift workers.
Does Working the Night Shift Affect Your Health?
Working the night shift can have profound impacts on your health and even just a single night of sleep loss can have a ripple effect. If you are in the 15% of U.S. workers who thrive at night, you might have concerns about how evening shift work is affecting your health.
It may initially sound like all drawbacks, but there are potential benefits to working at night. The key is to understand and develop an effective daily (or in this case, nightly) routine.
Your body has something called a circadian rhythm that supports your natural sleep cycles. Circadian rhythms affect many areas of life, including:
• Appetite and digestion
• Body temperature
Many people reach for a bottle of melatonin or other sleep aids. However, experts urge lifestyle shifts first to support healthier sleep and lower risk for health issues.
Health Risks of Working the Night Shift
A recent study found that the prevalence of infection in health care workers is associated with obesity and night shift work (mostly those on rotating shifts). However, health care concerns are not only linked to healthcare workers.
Other common health risks of disrupted sleep cycles include:
• Cardiovascular/heart disease
• Heart attacks
• High blood pressure
• Sleep problems
Common concerns that add to the challenges of the night shift include:
• Cognitive health
• Diet (i.e. alcohol, caffeine)
• Distractions (i.e. lighting, sound)
• Job performance
• Job satisfaction
Health Tips for Night Shift Workers
The night shift can have its perks! Be sure to try the following five tips to get the most out of work when you work midnight hours.
1. Create Routine by Clustering Shifts
Bodies are not adapted to switch between sleeping during the day or during the night quickly, and studies show that rotating night shifts can worsen overall health.
So when/if possible, group a stretch of night shifts together to help support a better sleep schedule.
2. Invite Others to Support Your Schedule
Usually, one person does not work the night shift alone and families, roommates, and friends can feel the impact of a loved one's graveyard shift.
Opening up and communicating in an improved way about household tasks, work schedules, or meal planning can help others better accommodate your schedule.
3. Start Stellar Sleep Hygiene
If you have not heard of sleep hygiene before, it is just a fancy phrase describing your sleep habits. It basically refers to your sleep routine (or lack thereof) and dives into how to better support your body's natural circadian rhythm.
For example, for good sleep hygiene, night shift workers may want to find a dark room away from high-traffic areas of the living space to get their best sleep. Limiting caffeine and blue light around these times might also help you fall asleep faster and more soundly.
4. Eat & Exercise Well
Did you know food, nutrients, and exercise can affect sleep? Beyond proper meal prep and hydration, try increasing your energy levels with healthy snacks or a quick stretch instead of caffeine.
Recent research shows that adjusting the timing of meals or trying to only eat during the day may help regulate blood sugar better. Timing meals the way that works for you can offset some of the health effects of the night shift.
Also, consider checking your levels of vitamin D since reduced sun exposure may lead to deficiency.
5. Consider a Power Nap
Sleepy night shift workers are prone to errors and at an increased risk of health issues. But a well-timed nap can make all the difference when it comes to wellness.
Talk to your colleagues about integrating 20-30 minute breaks into your night shift to allow you to be a better employee.
In Summary on Working Night Shift Healthily
The night shift gets a bad rap, but good health practices can make it easier. Invite others to join you on your wellness journey to achieve better sleep.
Support your circadian rhythm, even during the night shift, to encourage overall better health!
Daytime meals may reduce health risks of night shift work. National Institutes of Health. Published December 14, 2021. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/daytime-meals-may-reduce-health-risks-night-shift-work#:~:text=Night%20shift%20work%20disrupts%20the,to%20process%20sugar%2C%20or%20glucose.
Lawson CC, Whelan EA, Carreon-Valencia T, Caruso CC. Recent News about Night Shift Work and Cancer: What Does it Mean for Workers? CDC. Published April 27, 2021. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2021/04/27/nightshift-cancer/.
Rizza S, Coppeta L, Grelli S, Ferrazza G, Chiocchi M, et al. High body mass index and night shift work are associated with COVID-19 in health care workers. J Endocrinol Investig. 2021;44:1097-1101.
Robinson B. Hidden Hazards Of Night Shift Work And Gender On Career Health And Advancement. Forbes. Published April 11, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2021/04/11/hidden-hazards-of-night-shift-work-and-gender-on-career-health-and-advancement/?sh=11a430943aae.
Working Night Shift: The Health Effects. Franciscan Alliance. Published April 13, 2018. https://www.franciscanhealth.org/community/blog/working-night-shift-health-effects.