Shift workers rack up sleep debts that will affect their personal and professional lives, from falling asleep on the job to falling behind on their personal relationships. But it doesn’t stop there! They will also oftentimes skip meals or eat at irregular times, eat more sweet and salty foods, and sink into an exercise black hole, among other unhealthy habits.
Do these things sound too familiar to your ears? If they are, then you will definitely benefit from reading the following sections.
Be Mindful of Your Diet Habits
Being on a graveyard shift or on rotating shifts can really throw your sleeping and eating schedules out of whack. You may also eat at odd hours of the day and night to satisfy your hunger, and it seems like the more sleep-deprived you are, the hungrier you get. You will then be more likely to reach for unhealthy foods – junk foods like chips and soda, sweet foods like cake and cookies, and salty foods are so appetizing you just can’t resist them.
But we all know that unhealthy foods aren’t great for your body because these increase your risk for weight gain, chronic degenerative diseases, and even mental health issues. You’re making matters worse for yourself by adding these health risks on top of your chronic sleep deprivation-related issues.
You can try these easy yet effective tips instead to get your healthy diet back on track.
- Get rid of the unhealthy foods – chips, cookies and soda, to name a few – in your refrigerator and pantry so there won’t be temptations in your own home. Instead, stock up on healthy meals and snacks, such as easy-to-eat raw vegetables (apple slices, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes), fruits (oranges, grapes, and bananas), and hummus with crackers. Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, peanuts, and raisins, are great for munching away during snack time, too, since these fill your stomach without ending up as flab.
- Prepare your meals and snacks for work before your shift. You will then have less temptation to eat unhealthy foods from the cafeteria – or sharing food with your co-workers – and you can eat on a regular basis in the office. You should also prepare your at-home meals in advance so by the time you get home, you will have a healthy meal ready. Tip: Try crock pot meals or freezing portion sizes of your meals.
- Eat small yet frequent meals instead of three large heavy meals throughout your day, even when you eat them at awkward hours (i.e., lunch at 2 A.M.). Always sit down to eat and eat in a relaxed manner and pace.
- Drink plenty of fluids but stick to plain water and pure fruit juices. Limit your coffee consumption even when it seems like coffee keeps you awake and alert.
You will notice the positive changes in your health within a couple of weeks of changing your diet habits. You will also observe that you’re more alert at work and more able to sleep during the daytime.
Be on the Exercise Bandwagon
Many people on the graveyard shift feel too tired to even think about exercise, much less exercising for an hour every day. But it doesn’t have to be prolonged strenuous exercise either!
You just need moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day to enjoy the benefits of exercise for your mind and body. You can briskly walk around the block to your office, for example, walk up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator, and performing dynamic stretches on your break time. You don’t even have to own exercise equipment since bodyweight exercises are just as effective.
You will not only burn off the calories but you will also sleep better during the day or whenever you can take naps. You’re paying off your sleep debt, too, when you take 30-minute naps and wake up refreshed.
Be in the Bedroom Whenever Possible
For shift workers, especially those on rotating shifts, it isn’t always possible to get the recommended number of hours of sleep – about seven to nine hours every night – much less sleep on a regular schedule. But there’s a way out of it, if you’re willing to put in the work.
First, you should sleep whenever there’s time, such as on your off hours. You may want to catch up on your social life but if it will interfere with your sleep schedule, then just skip it – your physical health is more important than your social health and true friends will understand it.
Second, you have to ensure that your bedroom is as sleep-friendly as possible. Start with your mattress, which should be comfortable and supportive so that you can enjoy uninterrupted sleep; we recommend a Spring Air mattress. Make sure that you will not be disturbed while you’re sleeping, too, which can mean keeping your bedroom door locked.
Of course, you should adopt healthy sleeping habits, which have been discussed extensively in other articles on this website. Keep in mind that sleeping isn’t just a single activity – it’s influenced by your activities before you even hit the sack.