If your job requires shift work that may be bad news for your waistline and your overall health. Shift workers are at increased risk of being overweight and experiencing certain health problems, including chronic fatigue, stomach ulcers, metabolic syndrome, and even some cancers.
Why does this happen?
Your body’s natural energy cycle (called your circadian rhythm) is a built-in clock that regulates when things are supposed to happen. It varies from person to person and is the reason why some people naturally get up at 6am every morning while other prefer to get up at noon. It also explains jet lag and why many people feel sleepy in the middle of the afternoon. For most people it is not natural to stay up all night and sleep during the day so you basically end up fighting your body.
Strategies to reduce the impact:
- Have a pre-workout snack when you get up in the afternoon (small protein shake, banana, or Kashi cereal with almond milk are good choices)
- Exercise before you go to work (all you need is 30-45 min of high-intensity training – you can fit it into your schedule!)
- Have your main meal of the day after your workout
- Plan ahead by cooking all your food for the week on one of your days off and putting leftovers in the freezer
- Don’t eat between midnight and 6am, as this can increase GI distress and is more likely to go to your fat stores than anywhere else
- Have a small high-protein snack after your shift before you go to sleep if you tend to wake up from hunger in the middle of your sleeping time
- Take melatonin an hour before going to sleep – this is a natural hormone that your body makes when it is dark outside, signaling that it is time to go to sleep. Supplementation can help improve daytime sleep, ensuring that you get the rest you need and decreasing fatigue.
- Pretend you’re a vampire – wear sunglasses and cover up when leaving work in the am to reduce your exposure to light on your way to your bedroom of darkness. Install a blackout shade to make an artificial night in your room and promote a good day’s sleep.
- Take a Vitamin D supplement. Since you are not getting outside during daylight hours as much as you should be, taking a daily dose of the “sunshine vitamin” can help improve your mood, maintain healthy bones & teeth, and ward off depression.
- Reduce your caffeine consumption a few hours before the end of your shift. Think about what time you stop drinking caffeine on a regular day (when you’re not working a night shift) – how many hours is that before bed? Use that number to determine when you can have your last cup of coffee during the night. Adjust as needed.
- Increase your awareness. Be aware of the social norms at work and always remember that you have choices! Just because Sally brings in a box of donuts every time she works nights doesn’t mean you have to have one. Would you be eating that cookie if you were going home in an hour on day shift or are you just tired and trying to get through the night? The end of your shift will come whether you have it or not…just saying.