If you work hours between 6 pm and 7 am, you can call yourself a night shift worker.
Unfortunately, the chances are that you have to put in twice as much effort as the average person to stay healthy because you have to fight against biology. It is part of your body’s natural biological processes to be awake during the day and asleep at night. When you reverse this design, you can experience fatigue, leading to larger health issues.
An efficacious sleep schedule is essential to successful weight maintenance goals, and even though this can be hard to achieve if you have night shifts, Able is here to guide you through how to stay healthy as a nighttime worker.
When you sleep during the day and work at night, you throw off your body’s circadian rhythm — an internal clock that your body naturally has so that it knows when you should feel tired.
However, if you ignore your body’s sleep cues and remain awake during the night, you disrupt your internal rhythm and render yourself more tired later on.
Staying awake at night and sleeping through the day even just once can interfere with how you feel physically, and it can take up to two days for you to properly readjust.
If working through the night just one time affects your body, imagine how strong the physical toll will be if you consistently work through the night for extended periods!
Working the night shift has both short-term and long-term adverse health effects.
More immediate consequences include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, altered appetite states, poor digestion, mood problems, and a tendency to gain weight. These short-term effects may, in turn, yield longer-term effects such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental health issues such as depression.
Many studies link lack of sleep to weight gain and obesity. Moreover, the longer your night shift is, the higher your risk for adverse health problems like obesity and diabetes.
There are several ways that a dysregulated sleep schedule can cause weight gain. Lack of sleep may affect your food choices, the amount you consume, and the energy level that your consumed food burns to produce.
For one thing, when you get less sleep or significantly switch up your sleep schedule, your cortisol levels (stress hormone) remain high and puts you in a state of 'fight-or-flight' that results in you less likely to make conscious health decisions. When our cortisol levels are raised, the body looks for quick energy sources typically resulting in you craving sugary or starchy foods.
You may also end up eating larger amounts of these foods because sleep deprivation affects hunger. When you deprive your body of adequate sleep, you change your body’s ability to regulate the neurotransmitters that control hunger, which often results in you overeating because you feel more hungry.
An irregular sleep schedule can also end up dysregulating your metabolism, such that your body burns less of the energy from the food you eat.
This disruption to your metabolism likely stems from two factors. First, fatigue from fewer hours spent sleeping renders you less physically active. Second, sleep deprivation is often associated with lower body temperature, which is associated with lower energy expenditure and a slower metabolism.
If you work the night shift and are looking for ways to maintain your overall health, we’ve compiled a list of six key tips that can help you protect your wellness.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet will help you stay healthy when working the night shift. Bring healthy meals and snacks to work with you to fuel you throughout your shift, and consider taking vitamins to supplement your body’s nutritional requirements.
Ensure that you block out time to eat rather than rushing the process during your shift; have your meal or snack sitting down in a calm environment, as this will help your body digest your food. Your body needs all the help it can get to aid with digesting what you eat because your body is used to digesting foods during the day, not at night.
Go Gentle on Your Digestive System
You can focus on incorporating several different food groups into your night shift diet to yield health benefits. Try to eat soup to increase your body temperature and go easy on your digestive system.
Soup is a liquid, even if thick, which means that its components are already partially broken down, so your stomach automatically has to work far less hard during digestion.
Low Glycemic Index, Healthy Fat Foods
Eating foods with low glycemic indexes can also be beneficial because these foods slow digestion allows for much slower absorption and thus prevents blood sugar spikes.
Your pancreas manages your blood sugar but does not work as well at night, so you may want to avoid eating foods that spike your blood sugar. Instead, try to pack some plain greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, or other foods that comprise high healthy fat content, for example. These foods will help you feel fuller for a longer period of time.
When you eat foods high in healthy fats to sustain you, you are also less likely to eat huge snacks, which benefits your health. The larger the snack you eat, the more you impede your body’s glucose response to breakfast.
Finally, you should choose not only foods that help you feel fuller for longer, but also hydrating foods — like veggies, fruits, soups, and stews. Their high and nourishing water content can help ward off fatigue.
Although shift work might leave you feeling as if you are too tired to stay active, if you curb your physical activity, you will only make yourself more tired — and more prone to weight gain. Even getting outside for a 10-20 minute walk can help you feeling more refreshed and less groggy or tired.
As such, you must include time to stay active in your off schedule when you are home during the day. This will benefit your health and wellbeing and help bring you closer to your weight maintenance goals.
Even though you aren’t sleeping at night as a night shift worker, you can still trick your body into thinking it’s nighttime when you’re ready to sleep.
Or you can at least make your sleeping environment reminiscent of nighttime to help you fall asleep more easily.
Avoid bright light sources including screens.Try to shut the curtains in your bedroom, and make sure that they are heavy so that no light gets through. You should also make sure that you close your windows to eliminate disruptive, outside noises - use an eye mask and/or earplugs if needed. Remove as many electronics from your room and make sure it is cool and not too hot.
Finally, make sure that you allow yourself time to relax before going to bed. Whether this is taking a nice, hot shower or reading a little bit from a book, trying to fall asleep when you are relaxed is far easier than shutting your eyes immediately after you get home and are still wound up from your active night.
To increase alertness when you wake and for working your night shift, try using a bright light box - this helps by alerting the brain to stop production of melatonin (your sleep hormone) which can then help you feel more awake.
As the saying goes, consistency is key, especially when it comes to a night of good sleep!
Even on days when you do not work, you should try to stay awake at night and sleep during the day so that you don’t reverse your acclimation progress for your nighttime schedule.
Eating your meals on a consistent schedule also helps; the more aspects you keep to a schedule, the easier it is for your body to regulate its circadian rhythm against biology so that you can sleep during the day and be active at nighttime.
You might feel tempted to pound another cup of coffee during the last hour of your shift, just to give you the energy to power through and finish strong. But before you do so, think about the effects several hours down the line.
Is it worth it to still feel wired at home when lying in bed and trying to shut your eyes?
The same goes for alcohol, which can disrupt your sleep even after its drowsy effects wear off. Instead try a bit of movement or stretching if your environment allows to help, especially if you are sitting a lot at work.
Finally, you should try to plan ahead as much as possible when you work the night shift. Eat your main meal before you leave for your shift so that you are less likely to overeat or have a large snack later.
Try taking a nap, too, right before work. That way, you can wake up feeling a bit more refreshed and alert for the long night ahead of you.
Working the night shift disrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythm, leaving you more fatigued. Fatigue can cause altered appetite states, poor digestion, mood problems, and a tendency to gain weight, which are all factors that can, in turn, contribute to greater health risks such as obesity or diabetes.
With our tips on working the night shift and staying healthy, you can successfully achieve a happier, more sustainable lifestyle.
At Able, we focus on six pillars of wellness — nutrition, hydration, stress, sleep, relationships, and movement — to guide you through a personalized and holistic health approach that helps you lose weight and gain muscle. The change starts today! Feel better from now on and for good when you join Able and feel like yourself again.