It is well established that working night shifts can increase the risk of developing many health issues. These include but are not limited to; increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of various cancers, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal issues and increased stress levels which may result in negative mental health effects.
With that said, I’ve worked nights shifts myself in the past, and I understand sometimes “you gotta do what you gotta do” to pay the bills and keep food on the table.
So, let’s not dwell on the doom and gloom side of night shifts and instead look to what we can do to minimise these effects and keep you as happy and healthy as possible when working nights.
1.Prepare Healthy Meals in Bulk:
Being awake for just one night (now multiply that times 3-7 for a shift worker) has been shown to negatively impact blood sugar levels which can often lead to cravings for junk food. To avoid these temptations set aside time before starting a block of night shifts to prepare healthy meals in bulk. In my experience having healthy meals prepared greatly reduces the chances of turning to junk food.
Night shift work has also been shown to negatively affect insulin sensitivity; in simple terms this means your body will have a harder time processing those sugary foods and will be more likely to store body fat as a result. This further emphasises the need to eat healthy when working nights.
2. Supplement Wisely:
There are natural, healthy supplements out there that can improve your health and sleep quality when you’re working nights.
Here are my top 3 recommendations:
Melatonin is a hormone that’s secreted by the brain in the late evening to prepare the body and mind for sleep. Melatonin release is dictated by your bodies circadian rhythm, meaning that melatonin will get released in the evenings regardless if you’re on your drive to work for what will be a busy shift or at home preparing to get into bed!
Melatonin release beyond 4-6am is minimal, for this reason it is recommended to take a melatonin supplement before going to sleep after a night shift.
ZMA is one of my favourite natural supplements. It contains a blend of Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6, this combination when consumed prior to bed is used to achieve a deeper level of sleep.
Vitamin D this vitamin could warrant its own article. Vitamin D is essential for muscle function, healthy bones, and reduction of inflammation. Vitamin D is found in very few foods, and our main source of it comes from natural sunlight. When working nights, it is imperative to use a Vitamin D supplement to avoid becoming deficient.
3. Sleep in complete darkness:
When sleeping during the day it is essential to “recreate” night as best as possible. Ensure your bedroom is as dark as possible. If you don’t have a black out blind, invest in one immediately and in the mean-time, covering your window in tin-foil is a quick and cheap alternative!
Also, ensure that any light or noise emitting electrical devices are turned off or out of the room.
4. Limit Phone Use:
There’s no point creating a dark room, only to get into bed and begin blasting light into your eyes when browsing social media. Stay off your phone when in bed. Avoid phone and screen use prior to bed if possible. If not, at least use a blue light filter (most phones now have these built in, if your doesn’t there are downloadable apps with these on them). This will minimise the amount of light you are exposed to, and the strain on your eyes as a result.
5. Avoid caffeine:
Relax, I don’t mean no caffeine whatsoever and I understand it’s often exactly what’s needed to get through a shift. However, where possible try to avoid caffeine in the final hours of your shift.
Caffeine consumption increases cortisol levels; a stress hormone. Working nights also increases cortisol levels. The last thing you want in the hours prior to sleep is to willingly send your cortisol level any higher than necessary.
6. Adjust Your Exercise:
When working nights, your recovery ability is going to be compromised. Regularly performing extremely intense exercise sessions prior to a night shift will result in beating yourself into the ground and ultimately lead to injury and compromised results. Where possible, aim to time your hardest sessions during your time off, or day shifts. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t train “hard” when doing nights (as I said, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do) this simply means save the hardest sessions for times when recovery will not be compromised.