How to Stay Healthy If You Have a Late-Night Work Shift
The circadian rhythm is what programs the body to sleep at night and be awake during the day. Working graveyard shifts forces the body to act counter to its natural circadian rhythm. Because of this, few people can adapt easily to working such schedules. Many people who work these unnatural shifts often suffer from Shift Work Sleep Disorder, which makes them more irritable and less able to concentrate on any given task for prolonged periods.
People who work night shifts also often end up eating unhealthy foods, skip proper mealtimes, and are at a higher risk for weight gain and, in the long run, heart disease. You can take the following steps to stay healthy even if you have to work late at night and up until the morning.
- Eat healthy foods and prepare them for both at home and at work
Lack of sleep often leaves a person craving for cholesterol- and fat-rich foods. As much as you can, opt for fruits and vegetables instead that you can eat raw, such as apple slices and baby carrots. Nuts are great too. For carbohydrates, consider whole grains, such as oats. Stock your kitchen with them and, if you want or need to, take them with you when you go to work. This way, you will have ready healthy options when you want to eat something.
Consider eating smaller portions instead of full meals, as they can leave you sluggish while on the job. When you eat, do so at a more relaxed place. Eating while you multitask or while on the computer can make you reach for more food. It also helps if you stick to regular mealtimes that are in line with your natural circadian rhythm.
- Limit caffeine consumption
Caffeine stays in your body for many hours, blocking melatonin receptors in your brain, which are necessary for relaxation. This is how coffee keeps you stay awake for longer—it simply makes your brain not notice when it is already tired.
Therefore, avoid drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks for four or five hours before the end of your shift to help your body wind down. Instead, drink water and bring your own water bottle to work. Not only will this help your body, but it will also help you save on bottled drinks.
- Exercise moderately and get a good amount of sleep
Taking breaks from work for a short walk down the corridor or down a flight of stairs can help your body to burn stored calories and may even help relieve stress, as does stretching before the start of your shift. It will even help you sleep better as well.
When your shift does end and you go home to sleep, draw the curtains or blinds. Having a sleeping area with as little light as possible will help you sleep, as this would signal the melatonin receptors in your brain, which makes you feel tired and improves the quality of your sleep. It also helps if you keep a quiet environment without noise or any distractions that can further disrupt your already compromised body clock. If possible, avoid sleeping aids.