- Essential workers face potential health problems from working at night or irregular shifts.
- One reason is that night shifts cause people to go against their natural rhythms by staying awake when your body is programmed to be sleeping.
- One way of resetting your sleep cycle to optimize your rest is blocking out all the blue light one hour before sleeping, because exposure affects your sleep and wake cycles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world countless grief for all the lives lost and gratitude for all the essential workers who have tirelessly provided vital service to communities. While it’s good to know that there has been an outpouring of support for them as well as recognition for all they have done, there is one risky aspect to their jobs that is often overlooked: they work the night shifts.
Working non-traditional hours is common among essential workers such as those in health care, fire departments, law enforcement, and others. But due to the sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythms, people working at night are actually going against the body’s natural desire to be asleep at nighttime and to be awake during the day.
Research shows that night shift work may interfere with the body’s ability to repair DNA damage that occurs from normal cellular processes. Plus, not only does it rob you of sleep, but inconsistent sleep schedules also wreak havoc on your overall health, impacting your mood, concentration, and weight.
Resetting your sleep cycle for optimum rest and nutrition
Whether you’re dealing with night shift work, jet lag, or insomnia, your body will always rely on a 24-hour light-dark cycle that is significantly influenced by temperature and light, functional medicine specialist Dr. Amy Shah tells mbg. Although there’s no way you can adjust this body clock, Dr. Shah says there are steps you can take to help you cope better. Here are some:
1. Control blue light exposure.
Night workers can wear blue-light-blocking glasses during work and while on their daytime drive home to “trick” their brain into thinking that it’s nighttime. Then to promote sleep, blue light coming from your phone, TV, or computer screen should be turned off and lights should be dimmed one hour prior to sleeping time.
“Someone who’s working night shifts will still benefit from getting daylight during the daylight hours and darkness at night,” Shah says.
2. Eat smaller meals at night.
“Cravings and ‘munchies’ happen more frequently from my experience [with night shifts],” says Dr. Eva Selhub, author of “Resilience for Dummies.” And, people turn to consuming more carbs to stay awake, but the effect is only temporary.
To prevent spiking blood sugar levels and for easier digestion, it’s better to eat smaller but balanced meals. Selhub suggests eating healthy fats and proteins with smaller portions of healthy grains, like quinoa or sweet potatoes, before a shift, to keep you full and energized all night.
3. Eat nutrient-rich foods during the day.
If possible, eat at the end of the shift to keep mealtime closer to daylight hours and also to give you more time to digest before you hit the sack.
Selhub recommends making a morning shake with 1 cup of nut milk, 1 tablespoon pea protein powder, and half a cup of berries, for better sleep and to avoid waking up hungry.
4. Get adequate rest as much as you can.
“Go directly home, do whatever ritual you need, drink some water, draw your blackout shades, and get directly into bed wearing an eye mask,” holistic psychiatrist Dr. Ellen Vora writes in her upcoming book.
She suggests that night shift workers should do whatever they can to alert their bodies that it’s nighttime once they get home from work.
Shifting back to a daytime schedule
Shah suggests trying to revert back to a standard light-dark cycle during your time off from work or whenever you can. How? She suggests taking a nap for some hours after your shift. This way, you don’t miss one whole day and even if you still feel tired, you can sleep early and hopefully wake up with the sun the next morning.
Source: Mind Body Green