Being the night owl for creative purposes is a comforting story but for some of us living in the real world, working a night shift becomes a necessity. As businesses face increasing customer demand, so is the need for employees who are willing to clock in nightly hours.
Your body goes through a lot of changes when you start working nightshifts and some of them take a turn for the worse. Realizing the pitfalls is the first step and the second is going about fixing them, one step at a time. There’s nothing wrong in working at night or going for night shifts, don’t get us wrong. But it’s just not natural. We’re not here to criticize but to help, instead.
Let’s take a look at what happens when we work night shifts and some health tips on how to go about addressing that (without quitting our jobs, of course).
Side Effects of Working Night Shift
Here’s literally what happens when you pull night shifts-
1. Your Circadian Rhythm Goes Whack
Your body has a natural tendency to sleep during the night and stay awake in the daytime. When you mess with this natural sleep pattern, your circadian rhythm takes a toll. In fact, this is so important because it’s literally responsible for flushing out toxins, promoting internal healing, and running other bodily processes efficiently.
2. You Get Stressed
Since your circadian rhythm doesn’t do so good when you start working in the late hours, your body takes the stress. This could translate in the form of heightened blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels and more “bad” cholesterol.
3. Women Are at a Higher Risk for Breast Cancer
Researchers can’t exactly say why but they seem to have found a link between the increased likelihood of developing breast cancer in women when they start pulling night shifts. And this also applies to those who work once a week during the night too.
4. You Get Zero Exercise
Think about it. You’re out there working away the hours at night and when you finally return home in the morning, what do you want? A few hours of shuteye. This leaves little to no time for exercise.
5. Poor Diet and Obesity
The increased cortisol levels also mean you’re more likely to binge on processed foods and opt for takeout instead of going the natural route. Night shift workers are known to have higher rates of obesity, heart disease, and poor cardiovascular health because of their eating choices. And nobody can blame them because it’s life.
6. Poor Quality Sleep
We need a solid seven to eight hours of sleep a day. Or at least 6.5 hours, if we’re being very conservative here. The unsociable hours coupled with the stress at work translate to poor quality sleep. Even if we intend to stay asleep for seven hours, we find that by working night shifts we get only up to four or five hours. There’s a survey done by the National Sleep Foundation on chronic sleep deprivation and poor performance too.
7. Switches Up Your Metabolism
Your hormones and metabolism are closely connected. The leptin is one of them, for example, that plays a role in managing your weight, blood sugar, and insulin sensitivity. When you work night shifts, your metabolism is thrown in disarray and this interferes with the production and regulation of some of these key hormones.
8. Puts You at Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
When your sugar levels are elevated and your insulin receptors don’t work as well, your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes goes high for the future. There’s even a study done on the subject by Endocrine Society.
9. You Don’t Get Vitamin D
Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and you get by exposing your skin to the sun. When you’re in the dark and don’t spend time outdoors, you risk not meeting your RDA. Yes, supplementation helps but there’s nothing that beats the natural way. Lack of Vitamin D has been associated with depression, poor bone health, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and even heart disease.
10. You Don’t Get Enough Melatonin
Melatonin is the hormone that regulates your sleep and wake cycles. Lower levels of melatonin mean you don’t get restorative sleep when you do decide to go to sleep. What do you mean by this?
It means you don’t get high-quality sleep and that impairs your cognitive and emotional states when you finally wake up.
Health Tips for Night Shift Workers
Now that we’ve covered some of the side effects of doing nightshift work, let’s talk about how to stay healthy while working nights and getting good sleep.
1. Eat More Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and veggies have a lot of dietary fibre which prevents constipation, leave you feeling full, and supply you with a healthy variation of calories and nutrients. For snacks, you can add some dried nuts, seeds, low-fat yoghurts, and lean meats into your meals. These will give you the B-complex vitamins which your mind and body need plus will also help you function better at work.
2. Sneak in Power Naps
If your work allows it, you can sneak in a power nap so that your productivity doesn’t suffer during the rest of the night. This’ll also help make sure you sleep better when you do get home. Polyphasic sleep cycles are another option that works very well with power naps. You can look into those and adopt one of the schedules based on your health and requirements.
3. Don’t Take Caffeine
Caffeine gives you that high and alertness but it’s detrimental for your health long-term. If you gulp down several cups of coffee at work, your body will have to work extra hard to process it. It stresses your adrenal glands which makes it even harder to fall asleep once the initial 5-hour high goes away.
4. Soak in The Sun
Again, if your work is light or if your share is done and you have to stay in the office, try to go for a short walk in the sun. Or just get some sunlight after work once you’re done. This’ll help you get your Vitamin D and make falling asleep later a lot easier too.
5. No Electronics
Work is work and sleep is sleep. Don’t mix the two and that includes chatting with colleagues or watching funny cat videos after returning home. Turn off your electronics at least two hours before heading to bed and make that a house rule, at least for yourself.
6. No Distractions
Also, a follow-up tip. This means no TV, no blaring noises from background music etc. If you have a noisy roommate, consider getting some earplugs. Ideally, you want to sleep in a cool, dark, and quiet environment to make sure you get quality shuteye.
7. Play Relaxing Music
Playing relaxing music like classical or instrumental piano covers will help you gently fall asleep. If you can’t stand the silence at home or need your mind to wander, this is a good way to do that.
8. Take an Hour to Unwind
If listening to music doesn’t help, take an hour to unwind from your busy routine. Take a nice warm shower and spend a couple of minutes reading a peaceful or relaxing book. You can also draw or exercise your creativity a bit by journaling. This will help you get your thoughts out on paper which will make falling asleep a lot better by emptying your mind.
Meditation also works when it comes to falling asleep before your sleep time. There are various guided meditation tracks out there and it doesn’t take much of your time either. You just sit down in a quiet space in comfortable clothing, breathe deeply, and let your mind wander. Focus on your breaths and let your thoughts simply float, without judging or thinking anything about them. Do this for five or ten minutes a day and you’ll notice that falling asleep becomes a lot easier. Furthermore, since you’re relaxing your mind and body before bedtime, it’ll give you higher quality sleep.
10. Talk to Your Employer
If all else fails and you find you just can’t make nightshifts work for you, try talking to your employer. Ask for a daytime shift instead. Trust us, this will make a lot of difference. And it’s okay. Some people are night owls while the others are early risers. Just be yourself and you’ll know that your productivity will improve.
That’s all the tips we can give from our side. The key thing to note is to be positive and be gentle on yourself. Changing habits take time and consistency is the key ingredient. This means eating meals at the same time every day and falling asleep at the same time too. That’ll end up making your life a lot easier and the nightshifts less dreadful.