How to work the third shift and stay healthy

By Dr Pushpa Chandra

Mar 22

Millions of Americans work the graveyard shift. Although few people prefer to work overnight, the work that's being done is often the most essential. Doctors, nurses, police officers and firefighters are just some of the people whose services are needed overnight, as well as the people who have to support them. However, it's also true that poor health and third shift seem to go hand in hand. Here's how you can reduce the impact on your health when you have to work third shift.

Here's how you can reduce the impact on your health when you have to work third shift.

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Eat a Healthy Diet

It can be a lot harder to eat a healthy diet when you work overnight shifts. Trips to the vending machine for chips, candy bars, and soda can provide a welcome distraction during long late-night shifts. You may not be able to eat at the same time as the rest of your household. This often translates into an over-reliance on convenience foods and fast food.

Make an effort to choose healthy options. Include lots of fresh fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy and lean meats. Whenever possible, choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains that take longer for your body to digest. Simple carbohydrates, like cookies and pasta, are quickly turned into sugar and will leave you feeling that low-blood sugar crash that drives you to eat more. Complex carbohydrates, along with protein, will be great sources of lasting energy.

Drink More Water

Believe it or not, drinking more water fights fatigue even better than caffeine. Many Americans are chronically dehydrated as a result of drinking too little water. Of course, third shift workers are also more dependent on caffeine to stay awake through the night. That habit can be difficult to change. If you don't want to give up on a well-timed cup of joe to stay awake, try a cup of green tea which has caffeine plus L Theanine that increases Alpha Wave activity in brain which increases focus and alertness .

Drinking more water fights fatigue even better than caffeine.

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Don't Give Up on Exercise

A 2014 study by the University of Colorado Boulder found that people who work during third shift burn fewer calories throughout a 24-hour period than people who work more traditional schedules. Not surprisingly, this increases the risk of weight gain and obesity. You can make an effort to fight this by making exercise a priority. If you work in a hospital setting, many have onsite fitness facilities that you can use before, after, or even during a shift if you're lucky enough to get a regular break. You can also spend more time walking the halls rather than sitting.

Boost Your Emotional Health

Working third shift can be lonely, especially if you have loved ones at home. Work at maintaining an emotional connection by scheduling a call home around their bedtime or when they're just waking up in the morning. Make the most of your social opportunities at work, too. The night crew typically bonds well together because you're all trying to adapt to a similarly unusual lifestyle. Appreciate these people who are in the trenches with you and it will help you fight off feelings of isolation.

Be Consistent in Your Sleep Habits

One of the most common bad habits of those who work third shift is dividing your sleep during the day to attend appointments or spend time with loved ones. Many people end up intentionally choosing a sleep pattern that is broken up into a couple of naps rather than getting one solid block of sleep. The average human needs an ideal of eight hours of sleep every night, and it counts to get it in one block whenever possible. (Ask any new parent about the physical toll of getting broken sleep for months!)

Resist the urge to come home and do more work before you go to sleep. Many people who work third shift try to follow the same patterns as someone who works a traditional 8-5 daytime schedule and spend the hours after work unwinding and doing chores. Choose to establish a relaxing routine when you get home from work and try to go to bed as quickly as possible. You may have a higher quality sleep immediately after your shift.Remember you can play catch up with your chores but not with your sleep and health.

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About the Author

Dr. Pushpa Chandra is a Vancouver based Naturopathic Physician with an integrative approach to healthcare. Her background includes over 27 years of acute care hospital experience as a registered nurse and 22 years at BC Children's Hospital in critical care, working with the province's sickest children. Her special interests include research in circadian rhythm disruption, sports medicine and pediatrics. As a competitive sports enthusiast, Dr Pushpa completed ultramarathons and marathons in all 7 continents including North Pole, Antarctica and Mt Everest. As a shift worker she has been using the ingredients of AWAKE and ASLEEP to boost her performance, endurance and overall health.

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