Night shifts are part of life for nurses, factory workers, and truck drivers, among others. In fact, nearly 15 million Americans work nights. There are drawbacks to this kind of schedule, including health risks. Working nights has been shown to have adverse effects on heart health, metabolism, reproductive health, and even susceptibility to cancer.
If you can’t avoid working night shifts, what can you do to stay healthy?
Keep a consistent schedule
If possible, keep a consistent schedule. People who work rotating shifts may find it harder to get enough sleep even on their day shift days. Those who regularly work night shifts and keep to the same schedule on their days off are less likely to have problems.
Get your friends and family on board with your schedule. For example, have breakfast together when you get home from work if you can’t have dinner together before your shift. Let your housemates or family know when your sleep hours are so they can keep noise down during that time. Plan social time with your consistent schedule in mind, even if that means taking a walk together instead of going to the movies.
Use blackout curtains to make a dark sleeping space for yourself during the day. Consider wearing sunglasses while driving home.
Then, during your awake time, use bright lights to help signal to your body that it is daytime. Researchers have found that it is possible to reverse circadian rhythms by using light signals consistently.
Eat in the daytime
Shift workers will get hungry during the nighttime — their daytime. Working nights is also associated with higher levels of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. But it turns out that eating only during daylight hours reduces the rate of metabolic disorders for night workers.
Try to have your main meals in daylight if possible.
When you eat at night, try to avoid highly processed and sugary foods which can raise your blood sugar.
An early morning walk or swim before you go to sleep can be a special pleasure. A late afternoon gym class or home exercise break before your shift can get you energized for work.
Taking occasional breaks for movement during your work shift can help you stay awake and alert, too.
Whenever you fit in exercise, make sure you do it regularly. If you work out at the same time on a regular basis, your brain will help you remember to do it — you’ll feel like exercising because the automatic part of your brain will nudge your conscious mind.
Waiting till you feel like it or have extra time can make it less likely that you’ll take the time to move.
A smart watch or other wearable can help you by encouraging you to get plenty of steps or to burn a planned number of calories.
Maintain health habits
The same healthy habits of wholesome eating, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene will help you feel good and stay health when you have to work nights. Plan ahead to make it easier to maintain those healthy habits.