Shift work is any work that happens outside of the traditional and long-established workday of around 9AM to 5PM. This includes shifts that start at night or early morning, as well as rotating/shifting work schedules. People who need to do this are usually police officers, rescue personnel, nurses, doctors, custodial staff, and truck drivers who haul goods across the country. For these people, there’s no way to escape from shift work – it’s an essential part of any healthy and functioning economy. The problem is that shift work comes with irregular sleeping schedules, leading to sleep deprivation, lethargy during the workday, and the inability to fall asleep. If you have no choice but to do shift work, you can at least minimize the toll it takes on your mind and body by following these tips:
1. Eat and Drink Right
The most basic way to adjust to a potentially hazardous situation is by examining your diet. Having a healthy diet is practically mandatory for someone who does shift work. This is because you need all the help you can get to prevent or at least minimize the ill effects of shift work on your body. And it all starts with the food you eat.
It’s no longer enough to just count calories and control your portions. You need to know the active chemicals and ingredients in the food that you’re putting inside your body. This will allow you to not just choose the best food, but also to determine the best time for eating the food you’ve chosen. For instance, bran is a good way to start the day. According to dietician Kim Stinson-Burt, bran fills you up with iron, magnesium, and B-vitamins – raw materials that the body can use for energy. If you’re looking for something salty, Stinson-Burt suggests salmon, which is a good source of both protein and Omega-3 fatty acids – great for muscle repair and brain activity. Both of these are great meals for starting your workday. It’s also a good idea to always have some carrots, apple slices, oranges, and bananas in the house as well as at work – if you want to munch on something, make it something with zero preservatives. A little research into healthy food that you can prepare during your days off can go a long way.
You should also watch how and when you drink caffeine. Have it with breakfast or even lunch, but when the end of your shift is creeping in, try not to drink any more coffee. The less caffeine in your system before bedtime, the easier it’ll be to fall asleep. You can also let go of the notion that you have to finish every single cup of coffee you order. After finishing half a cup, see how your body feels first before going for another sip. If you’re sufficiently awake, set aside your cup for later. Caffeine is a powerful drug for fighting off lethargy, but it can also potentially contribute to your lack of sleep. If you’re over-caffeinated and are feeling anxious and antsy, try drinking tons of water.
Additionally, constant hydration is a simple way to keep your body’s cells functioning at optimum performance. Even if you didn’t drink too much coffee, drink tons of water anyway. Sometimes, lethargy and fatigue is just caused by dehydration, making shift work extra harder. Drink water until your urine is consistently colorless – this means you’re sufficiently hydrated.
2. Make Room for Exercise
If you want to improve the quality of your sleep by 65%, follow the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended weekly 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical exercise. The NSF’s studies have shown that regular physical activity alone can drastically improve sleep and even beat insomnia. The exercises can be anything at all, as long as it can be considered moderate to vigorous, like running, basketball, jump rope, planks, or squats.
You don’t need to finish all 150 minutes in one day, or even in two – it depends on your free time as well as your current level of physical fitness. You can easily make those weekly 150 minutes if you do 30 minutes per day for 5 days. It’s entirely up to you. And if you get lazy, just keep your eyes on the prize: improved sleep quality even as you’re working weird shifts. You’re also likely to lose some weight.
3. Take Meditation Seriously
Meditation is centered on the honing of focus. There are plenty of different ways to meditate, but they all boil down to achieving a state of utmost focus and relaxation. In this state, you are at peace. You can do anything that you set your mind to. And it all starts with breathing.
By focusing on slowing down your breathing and making it consistent, you’re forcing your mind to forget the past and the future while keeping your focus on the present. Mindfulness of the present is another key element in meditation. By not thinking about the coming workday, your past, or anything that doesn’t involve your present meditation, you’re clearing your mind of any sources of anxiety and stress. Regularly meditating, even at work, is a good way to alleviate a tired and bogged down mind. All you need is 20 minutes to yourself and a safe place where you can meditate.
The more you practice meditation, the more you train to hone your focus and achieve mental and physical calmness. Apart from being useful for stress-relief during the workday, meditation can also beat insomnia. With meditation, you can achieve a state wherein you can do anything – including falling asleep with ease.
Randy Vera is a freelance writer, licensed nurse, and sleep enthusiast from Los Angeles, California. After traveling through SE Asia to learn of his heritage, he joined a few of his colleagues at Onebed Australia. He practices Zen meditation daily and prefers living a natural health lifestyle.