Shift work can take its toll on your physical and mental health if you let it. Medical Doctor and health and wellness blogger, Dr. Ciara Kelly shares her top 5 tips on beating your body clock.
Eat To Fuel and Feel Your Best
‘What do I eat on a night shift?’ is probably the most common question I get asked whenever I talk about shift work on my social media, and rightly so. Shift work can wreak havoc on your diet, especially during the night shift. You’re thrown out of your normal good habits, and straight into unfamiliarity. Often, work outside of a standard 9-5 day means reduced availability of healthier food options at the workplace too.
This is where planning and preparation will save your bacon. I love options like dahls, lasagne, soups or mild curries and chili you can make and store to take with you or freeze at home. Focus on recipes based on whole foods, with lots of vegetables packed in. Snacks are also a really important thing to consider – especially if you who don’t have much of an appetite on the night shift. Options like hummus and vegetable sticks, nut butter with apple slices or simply a yogurt with berries and raw nuts are fantastic to avoid a midnight dash to the vending machine!
Exercise Your Body and Mind
I get asked about ‘working out’ around shift work a LOT, and the simple answer is that while there is no one size fits all, movement of any shape or form is really important. Physical activity is an important lifestyle factor that as a population we do not get enough of. How much exercise you can or feel able to fit in around your shifts will vary based on what sort of work you do (e.g. active or more sedentary), how long your shift is, and whether it’s day or night hours. Regardless, the basic advice I give is the same. All movement is beneficial, both for physical and mental health, so if you’re feeling energetic, absolutely get some exercise in, whether that’s at the gym, at home or outside. If you struggle with fatigue, then don’t sweat it – instead, try a short walk outside, or some restorative yoga. Whether you exercise before or after your shift is up to you – play around with it, and find out what works best for your body and mind.
The Sleep Struggles
I struggle big time with sleeping during the day, but I have found a few tricks along the way which I’ll share. First, get yourself an eye mask, and if you can, some form of ‘black out’ blinds or curtains – an investment you will NOT regret! If possible, avoid taking a big meal or large amounts of fluids right before you tuck in – I think that’s pretty self-explanatory! Finally, I strongly recommend trying a little bit of meditation before you nod off. I play myself a ten minute guided meditation using the Calm app on my phone before I sleep, and just simply focusing on my breath helps me switch off from the shift.
To Caffeinate or Not To Caffeinate
Caffeine during night shifts – a tricky topic, because many people I’ve met refuse to renounce the cuppa no matter what. However, I would advise avoiding reliance on coffee or even tea to get you through a shift. If you feel you can’t manage without it, then time it right – have your coffee at the start of your shift, and definitely NOT at the end, when you’re about to hit the hay at home. Personally, I stick to decaf coffee during nights because I love the flavour, and I pack a LOT of caffeine-free herbal teas to keep me going.
Get Social – Especially If You Don’t Want To
Shift work can make a person VERY anti-social – either due to the hours rostered, or your lack of desire to dress up and go out after a late finish. However, it IS important to maintain some kind of social contact during your week, simply for the benefit of your own mental health. That might be just having a dinner with your family at home before you head into work for the night, or going for a celebratory breakfast with friends when you finish your night shifts. A bit of laughter and chat outside of the workplace is a solid stress buster, so try to prioritise it.
Dr. Ciara Kelly x
Head here to read: Keeping Mind and Body in Balance.