Whether you are working nights, afternoon and evenings, or on a rotating schedule, working outside of the natural daylight hours can upset your body’s “internal clock.” Your “internal clock” tells your body to be awake during the day and to sleep at night. This has a lot of implications for your health and your weight.
On this non-traditional schedule, you may find it hard to know when and what to eat. It may also be hard to find enough time to exercise regularly.
Common physical and mental health side effects:
Change in appetite
Irritability and decreased tolerance to stress
Trouble falling asleep or getting quality sleep
Weight loss or weight gain
Constipation, diarrhea, gas
Indigestion, heartburn or stomach ulcers
Strain on interpersonal and family relationships
The Good news: By prioritizing yourself and your health, you can avoid most of these issues.
Follow these tips to stay healthy, alert, and feel your best at work and at home:
Eat Before You Go - Enjoy your “main meal” before before work. If your working hours start later in the day, have your main meal at mid-day around noon. If you’re working overnight, eat your main meal at about 6 pm before you go to work. Don’t worry about the time of day, have a small meal and healthy snacks every 3-4 hours. Eating large meals during the night can cause heartburn, gas, or constipation. It can also make you feel sleepy and sluggish. Be careful not to overeat on the job.
Plan Ahead - Pack your own healthy snacks. It can be difficult to find healthy snacks during afternoon and overnight hours. The cafeteria may be closed. Vending machines may only carry salty or high fat snacks, and high calorie sugary drinks. Examples of balanced snacks include: an apple with a small piece of low fat cheese, a handful of nuts with carrots, or low fat yogurt with a banana. You can strategize with your Retrofit coach about protein + produce snacks that may work best for you! It’s critical to be prepared so whether that means having meal or snack options available to grab and go or scheduling time to get to the grocery store. When you plan ahead, you set yourself up for success and reduce impulse choices at work.
Avoid Alcohol and Fatty, Fried, Spicy foods - Foods such as hamburgers, fried chicken, and spicy chili may lead to heartburn and indigestion. Eating too much fat can also increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Avoid drinking alcohol after work. A drink may make you feel more relaxed, but alcohol disturbs your sleep.
Energize with Protein and Produce Snack - You may feel like you need a quick boost of energy, but be mindful to avoid sugary foods and drinks. The spike of energy they give you doesn’t last long, and are often followed by a crash in energy levels later. Enjoy balanced snacks and hydrating beverages instead to stay alert and keep your energy up.
Hydrate - Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. It will help you to stay alert and not feel so tired. Keep a water bottle nearby and take sips frequently, even before you feel thirsty. Low fat milk, tea, unsweetened herbal tea, and lower sodium 100% vegetable juices are other nutritious beverages to have available. Try to avoid all fruit juices, as the calories and sugar content can add up quickly.
Sleep Hygiene - Start by having something light to eat before you go to bed so you aren’t woken by hunger pangs. Aim to minimize the time between getting home and going to sleep. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to be more alert and then you’ll find it more challenging to fall asleep. Stick to your schedule - As much as you can, keep things routine and consistent. This includes your days off.
Leverage your environment - Minimize light exposure by investing blackout curtains or a face mask. Block out sounds with earplugs. Create an environment conducive to sleep by controlling the room temperature to ideally 68-70 degrees F.
Unplug and Communicate - Keep lines of communication open with your family. Schedule time to spend with your significant other and your children. Turn off electronic devices and let family friends know about your work schedule so they don’t disturb you during the time you are planning to sleep.
Keep active - Take a stretch break. Walk up a few flights of stairs. Or go for a brisk walk. The benefits of staying active include: improving your mood, staying fit, managing stress, sleeping better and re-energizing yourself mentally and physically..
Limit Caffeine - Drinking coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages can help you stay alert, but be careful to not over consume! No more than 400 mg of caffeine a day is recommended, which is approximately the amount of caffeine found in two to three small cups of regular coffee. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to eight hours. This can affect your sleep. Switch to decaffeinated drinks, unsweetened herbal tea, or water about four hours before bedtime.
Caffeine Content (per 250 mL cup)
12 oz Cola (1 can)
12 oz Energy Drink (1 can)