If you compare yourself to a zombie or vampire and you’re often unsure what day it is, you might just be a shift worker. Shift workers provide essential services around the clock but managing shift work can be challenging. Today we want to talk about the health risks associated with shift work and give you some self-care tips you can use whether you work morning, afternoons, nights, or rotating shifts.
What is shift work?
Shift work is when you work outside of the typical 9 am to 5 pm shifts. This includes starting work in the wee hours, the afternoon, or at night. Rotating shifts—where you work different schedules throughout the week or month—is also considered shift work. Shift work is common in the hospitality, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.
The health risks associated with shift work
Shift work is associated with increased risk of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. A recent study of nurses showed their risk of coronary heart disease increases with the number of years they work rotating night shifts. Fortunately, the study also showed this increased risk returns to normal after the nurses stop working rotating night shifts.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 10 percent of shift workers have shift work disorder and 25-30 percent of shift workers experience symptoms of the disorder including insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Being a shift worker isn’t easy, but you can limit the downsides by taking good care of yourself.
Self-care tips for shift workers:
- Get enough sleep – It’s challenging to sleep when everyone else is awake but it’s essential. Practice good sleep hygiene and install a black-out curtain in your bedroom so you can sleep in the dark. If you like napping, try a 30-minute nap before your shift.
- Exercise – Just like on the day shift, exercise reduces stress and increases your energy over time. The benefits of yoga and strength training can’t be ignored. Test out different times to exercise and remember—the best time to exercise is whatever time you can stick to.
- Stay social – Working off hours can wreak havoc on your social life. To avoid isolation, schedule quality time with your favourite people every week.
- Enjoy your hobbies – It takes time to get used to shift work, but once you get the hang of it, make sure you still make time for your hobbies and leisure activities. Whether it’s getting a massage, reading a book, or going for a walk in your favourite place, making time for activities you enjoy is a great way to rejuvenate yourself.
- Learn about shift work issues – People can thrive on shift work and it’s faster to learn what works (and what doesn’t) from other shift workers than stumble through the experience alone. The National Sleep Foundation’s microsite, Shift Work & You, has many tips for managing shift work well.
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