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We live in an increasingly 24-hour, 24/7 society, and that means people are working 24 hours a day, 24/7! However, with more and more people working schedules that aren’t typically 9-5, negative impacts of shift work are being well documented, with studies having shown it can increase the risk of certain disorders and decrease the overall long term well-being of employees. With nurses, police officers, paramedics, factory workers, office cleaners, truckers and many more all working non-traditional schedules, family physician and Professor at the University of Toronto Dr. Kimberly Wintemute joined us to talk about how to best manage your health if you find yourself working overnight.
The health effects
Shift work health tolls can include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and depression. Shift workers are also more likely to have heart attacks and strokes, and the World Health Organization says shift work is a probable cause of cancer. A step further, sleep loss can have an effect on nearly every bodily system – our bodies work according to circadian rhythms, which help us adapt to light and dark, or when we need to be active and awake and when we need to rest and sleep. Overnight workers throw their circadian rhythms into disarray.
What you can do
If you’re working overnight, there are some things you can do to diminish the impact it has on your health. Tips include:
- Eat protein-rich foods, like eggs, fish and beans, and encourage healthy snack consumption at work
- Drink plenty of water
- Small doses of caffeine can also help, but consider when you are consuming the caffeine
- Save your carb-heavy meals for the morning to help fall asleep
- When it’s time to go to sleep, draw the curtains, turn off your phone, and try to simulate a natural light/dark cycle as best as possible
- If you are driving or walking home in the daylight, wear sunglasses on the trip home to start to lessen the light your body is absorbing
- When you get home, continue to avoid bright lights in your environment. If you must use a screen, use a filtered screen with the blue filter
If you are working that evening, you should try to sleep as long as you would normally sleep as if you were on a typical day shift. If you need 7 hours, try to get it, and make sure there are no disruptions! Your home must be quiet – ask your family and friends to respect the fact that this is “night” for you. Phone calls, doorbells ringing, kids coming home from school, all will keep you from getting restorative sleep.
If you don’t have another night shift and are transitioning back to a regular schedule, rest for 3 or 4 hours, get up, then have a bit of evening, then take your melatonin and go to bed when you would on a regular schedule.