Our bodies and minds are naturally attuned to the circadian rhythm – the changes in light and darkness that occur over a 24-hour period. However, for people who work in shift jobs, which could partially or entirely include the night hours, this can lead to health complications, including mental health issues. Worse still are irregular night shifts, which don’t allow either the body or mind to get used to any particular rhythm.
Let us discuss the issues that may arise when working night shifts over a prolonged period:
How Shift Work Affects the Body and Mind
Disrupts your sleep cycle: Being well-rested is important for good health and optimal efficiency. Night-shift workers tend to compromise on their sleep time to meet their career or personal obligations. Around 71% of night-shift workers have unsatisfactory sleep quality compared to 50% of day-shift workers.
When you do not maintain your regular sleep cycle, your metabolism, cell healing, and stress regulation, among other important systems are disturbed, putting you at risk for many disorders.
Interferes with metabolism: The metabolic system is a crucial system for hormones to be secreted for regular and healthy bodily function. However, unhealthy sleep patterns can disrupt this system, increasing the risk of obesity and diabetes, since vital hormones needed to regulate the systems are not being produced or secreted sufficiently.
Increased risk of mental health issues: Working night shifts prevents many people from attending social events with friends and family. These can severely affect a person’s mental health by increasing the risks of depression and other mental health disorders.
Deprives workers of Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a crucial vitamin that humans obtain largely from the sun. This vitamin improves immunity against certain fatal diseases and promotes bone growth too. Working night shifts may force you to miss out on any form of sunlight, as you sleep during the day.
The above points illustrate how detrimental night shifts can be for physical and mental health. However, you don’t need to feel discouraged upon reading this. By putting in some extra effort, night shift workers can ensure their health does not suffer due to their jobs. However, you must stick to these self-care tips to see improvement in results.
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Self-care Tips for Night-Shift Workers
Here is a list of self-care tips you can implement in your lives to maintain optimum physical and mental health:
Stick to a regular schedule: Having a regular shift work schedule with minimal disruptions will allow you to maintain a healthy sleep and a metabolic routine. Follow this schedule even on off days. This allows your body to adjust to the night shifts, rather than stay in survival mode. If you do not have all-night shifts, try to have night shifts consecutively. You can then adjust your body to a schedule, which will promote better sleep, metabolism, and overall health.
Get some sunlight daily: Absorbing sunlight will provide you with the vitamin D that your body requires. Since night shift workers sleep through the day, it is essential to set aside time to soak in the sunlight. You may use this time to complete some outdoor activities and get some exercise as well.
However, if it is challenging to do this, you may turn to vitamin D supplements after talking to a healthcare specialist. You can also increase vitamin D intake through various foods like oily fish, red meat, egg yolks, and more.
Incorporate exercise into your routine: Working out is an effective way to get your body working, improve your mental health, and encourage cognitive functions. Your workout plan must incorporate various types of exercises to ensure improvement in cardiovascular functions, strength, and flexibility.
You can combine the task of getting sunlight and exercise by doing outdoor workouts. You will also benefit from this extra time with nature, and your body and mind will thank you later.
Eat more mindfully: You have to be mindful of the food you consume, especially during your night shifts. We tend to gravitate towards unhealthy junk food as it is always readily available. You can control your unhealthy consumption by preparing meals in advance for the coming week. This will make help you resist unhealthy temptations.
It is also a good idea to stock up on healthy snacks, as this can keep your food cravings at bay.
Stay hydrated: Drinking water in sufficient amounts ensures that your body continues performing regular body functions such as flushing out toxic waste, regulating body temperature, and catering to your cells’ nutritional needs.
Drink water to meet this need, rather than coffee or energy drinks. While the latter might be quick and easy options to power through the night, excess caffeine can negatively impact your health. Drink caffeine in moderation to make good use of the extra energy without endangering your health.
Find a hobby: Doing something you enjoy every day can enhance your mental health. Finding a hobby you can stick to will uplift your mood and provide you quality ‘me-time’. It will also allow you to build a positive mindset to get through stressful times.
Finally, it is always best to gradually transition into night shifts rather than jump into it suddenly. However, if you don’t have this option, you can incorporate the self-care tips mentioned above to ensure your health is not compromised for your career.