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Tips for the Shift Worker: How to stay healthy during shift work

The term ‘shift work’ typically refers to any work hours outside of the standard 7am – 6pm time. As the title suggests, shift workers often do not have a consistent schedule, but rotate through various shifts.

If you’re a shift worker, you know all too well that between the constant changes and odd hours, this type of work can easily take a toll on your body and create challenges for your social and family life. Here are a few ways you can take care of yourself as you navigate life as a shift worker.

Prioritize sleep

Loss of sleep is by far one of the biggest issues associated with shift work. For many shift workers, it is not uncommon to go from working a 12pm – 8pm shift to working a 10pm – 6am shift the next week. With schedules fluctuating back and forth, your internal clock gets thrown off. When this happens, you tend to not fall asleep when you should, and thus suffer from tiredness through your work shift.

If you are working night shifts, set a schedule and stick to it as much as possible during the time you’re working this shift. Don’t hesitate to manipulate your environment with extra curtains, earplugs, etc. Whatever you do, don’t cheat yourself out of a good 7-8 hour sleep.

Create your own routine

Try to be very methodical about both your bedtime and wakeup routines. This will help your body know that it’s time to go to sleep and time to wake up. Before going to bed, try going for a slow walk, taking a bath, doing some stretching or quietly reading a book. Not only are these activities relaxing, but if done enough right before bed, these activities will send a signal to your body that it’s time for sleep. For a ‘morning’ routine, try exercising when you wake up, even if it’s a light workout. This will raise your body temperature, wake you up, and promote alertness.

Choose social events wisely

This is a tough one, but if you’re working odd hours, chances are during the hours that everyone else is available, you’re either catching up on sleep or spending time with your family, and that’s okay. Don’t feel the need to say yes to social gatherings just because everyone expects you to attend. Focus on maintaining your sleep schedule and spending time with your loved ones.

Shift work can be tough on any worker, and with the odd hours and fluctuating schedules, the work can easily become discouraging. Regardless of your work hours, focus on maintaining your health and growing your important relationships.

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