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CALLING ALL SHIFT WORKERS!
Hello & welcome. Whether you are post night shift, pre night shift, day shift or on a day off, I am here to give you some tips to try and maintain your mental and physical health through the hardship that is shift work. Being a nurse for 6 years myself, I feel the pain. Those mornings after you finish night shift, you wonder why on earth you chose this career; how do I get out of nights and what am I going to do with my life. We have all been told that shift work and night shift shaves YEARS off your life, and I, as well as the scientists, are not surprised why. Physiologically, shift work alters your circadian rhythms and causes severe stress on the systems that regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
For those who like a bit of science, your body clock or your circadian rhythms are regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN, of the hypothalamus, located in the base of your brain. The SCN regulates the homeostasis or stabilisation of your body including the temperature, how your body functions and your rest and activity cycles and is otherwise known as the circadian pacemaker. When you actively challenge the natural cycles of the sleep-wake cycle, you have repercussions in your biological and physiological functioning. In this instance, those who do a lot of night shifts or altered shifts are more likely to suffer from insomnia, anxiety, digestive issues, poorer mental health, irritability and reduced functioning. The sleep quality during the day is less and often leaves individuals with a significant sleep debt after work, resulting in increased risk of accidents or mistakes both at work and on your journey home.
Overall, if you go for a deep dive into the health effects of shift work… it’s not good, HAHA! I don’t advise going down that rabbit hole… BUT we can do some things than can help.
1. Find a routine and what works for you
What works for you might be completely different than what works for someone else, so don’t compare with each other, try a few different things and see what works for you. Some people love staying up when they get home till around 10am and then sleep straight through till 6pm and find that works better for them as its more similar to what they would do on a morning shift, getting up and going straight to work. For me personally I crash as soon as I get home, sometimes asleep by 8am and ideally wake up at 4-5pm, allowing me time to
have a coffee, relax and regroup before my night shift. Everyone is different, so try a few things out!
2. Make healthy snacks and meals for during your night shift
The increased risks of cardiovascular disease from night shift are mainly attributed to the reduced activity and high amounts of high cholesterol food. We all know when we are tired, we reach for anything to make us feel alive. Chocolate, baked goods, chips… but these only help us temporarily and typically end with a big downwards slope of exhaustion. Making yourself healthy and nourishing snacks for the night shift is important. Some easy recipes can include Egg cups, cheese & crackers, overnight oats and fruit. Meals with high fats are good to keep your energy up but not “eat” as much if you don’t like big meals on night shifts. Good fats (avocado, nuts, fish) help regulate hormones and therefore can only help in regulating your hormonal regulation through night shift. Personally, I structure my nights like I structure my day and have a “breakfast, lunch and dinner” to keep my metabolism going. I get very hungry and know that chips and chocolate aren’t going to make me feel very good in the long term.
3. Plan your caffeine
If you are in any way affected by caffeine, it is best to structure it, so you sleep well during the day. I don’t have coffee past 2am to allow at least 6 hours for my body to process the caffeine and prepare for sleep. Yes, a coffee at 5am is DESPERATELY needed, but over time your adrenal system will tire and fatigue, and you will experience increased exhaustion and that feeling of being drained but unable to sleep due to the surge of cortisol running through your body.
4. Plan your water
We have all been there. We have all drunk a giant glass of water before going to bed in the morning and wake up in the middle of the day BUSTING to go to the toilet. Personally, I try to reduce my fluid intake after 4 or 5 am so that I don’t have to get up throughout the day to go to the toilet. The fun fact behind this one is that our circadian rhythms and hypothalamus regulate our kidneys and our renal tubules and during the night they actually tell our kidneys to concentrate our urine overnight so that we don’t need to produce as much urine and don’t need to get up to pee throughout the night. This also reduces dehydration that can occur throughout the night as we are not actively drinking like we do during the day. During the day, however, our hypothalamus tells our kidneys to excrete more urine, allowing excretion to increase again. When we swap night and day around in our shift work patterns, our kidneys don’t change with it, meaning during the night we don’t go to the toilet as much, but during the day, when we are trying to sleep, our kidneys remain more active. So, a simple way to avoid this is to drink more water at the start of your night shift and less towards the end.
5. Get active
Night shift can often have reduced activity. Don’t get me wrong, some nights are extremely busy, but others are not as busy, and we find ourselves sitting down a lot more. It is really important to maintain some activity throughout your night shift, whether that is a walk when you wake up or a gym before you go to work. It helps with alertness levels and reducing the effects of night shift. Also, if you don’t get out and do something it genuinely just feels like you work, sleep, work, sleep, repeat, repeat, repeat and never ends.
6. Find ways to de-stress
Whether it’s mediation, reading, or exercise… find ways to de-stress. Even if you don’t feel stressed, there is a good chance your body and your natural rhythms are. Mindfulness, yoga, stretching or finding ways that work for you, can help regulate sleep, improve digestion and just ultimately reduce the yucky side effects of night shift. There are a large amount of sleep sounds, meditation sleep tutorials and so much more on all music platforms to help you drift off to sleep or relax.
7. Have a plan for the end of your nights
Think of something nice to reward yourself with after your nights. A catch-up with friends, an after night shift brunch with your colleagues, buying yourself something small… it can be anything, but it gives you motivation to get through. And whilst you’re at work, lean on your colleagues to help you. We are all there together, so use each other for support and help. You don’t have to do it all! And remember it’s a 24/7 job, you can only do what you can do.
8. Say no to overtime or take a day off if you need one! Prioritise you!
If you are feeling absolutely burnt out, have had a day with absolutely no sleep or feel like work is affecting your mental health, take a day off. Yes, we all stress about them not having coverage for the shift or feeling guilty leaving them short-staffed, but they ALWAYS get through the shift no matter what. We all work together when people call in sick, and it is better to call in sick early when you recognise the signs, then down the track when you are so burnt out you have nothing more to give. We all know the challenges these last few years have given us and if anything, it is a REMINDER that life is short, and YOU are the priority in your own life and YOU need to help yourself before you can help anyone else.
And if you need a change and want to design your own life and your own roster and haven’t yet taken the plunge, then join us! Become an agency and have the flexibility to prioritise your physical and mental health and what works for YOU.
COME FOR THE JOURNEY TODAY: https://bit.ly/3NEYY8C
Xana, Brand Ambassador