5 Wellness Tips for Shift Workers

These five practices will help keep you safe and well when shift work puts you out of step with your natural rhythms

If you work shifts or nights, you’ll need to ensure you find balance

About 25% of Canadian workers work outside the standard business week, either through fixed evening or night shifts, extended hours or rotational schedules that range widely.

Our 24-hour society has created a demand for constant staffing and, for many, working nights actually helps with facilitating continuing education, meeting childcare needs or generating extra income.

Still, without a dedicated effort to find balance, being out of step with both natural and social rhythms can have a serious effect on work performance and physical and emotional health.

Overnight and irregular schedules can conflict with the chemical signals in our bodies governing when to sleep, when to be active and when to digest food. Built-up fatigue is then made worse by outside noise and interruptions that prevent many night workers from reaching deep sleep during the day.

It can also be difficult to see family and friends, or to maintain a regular fitness routine – activities that are critical for good health. These lifestyle stresses can impair both cognitive and motor skills, increasing the risk of an accident on the job or commute. Over time, they can lead to gastrointestinal illnesses, depression and heart disease. 

5 Tips for Shift-worker Wellness

If you regularly work odd or long hours, use these five practices to stay safe and well, both on and off the job.

  1. Routine: It can be a challenge, but if possible, try to keep the same waking and sleeping schedule on your days off.

  2. Tracking: Keep an ongoing log of your activities, shifts and energy levels to determine whether faster or longer-term rotations work best and when you should schedule your sleep and meals.

  3. Sleep Hygiene: Create a restful sleep environment by blocking out light, using earplugs, turning off your phone and instructing friends and family not to disturb you.

  4. Food: Pack a healthy lunch so you don’t need to rely on vending machines for meals. Drink lots of water and avoid heavy, high-fat meals during a night shift.

  5. Fitness: Make time for daily exercise, ideally before your shift. Also schedule time for meditation or relaxation. Do not depend on medications to simulate energy and mental 
well-being in place of a balanced lifestyle.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.