The number of shift workers, or employees who work in day and night shifts has grown because of the demands in healthcare, telecommunications and other jobs that need 24 hour services. At present, commercial food establishments and entertainment businesses, including hotels and other businesses that demand round-the-clock services have increased. Because of this primary physicians are seeing more patients with medical problems related to sleep disturbances, chronic headaches, fatigue syndromes, depression and cardiovascular diseases.
Tips for Better Health Among Shift Workers
Disturbance in biological rhythm in terms of sleep and wakefulness can affect one’s health such that problems with chronic headaches, increased tendency to eat and gain weight may result. Irregular sleep schedule coupled with physical and psychological stress can severely bring down one’s immunity and predispose to health problems.
To avoid these, shift workers like call center agents, entertainers, hotel and restaurant employees, nurses and other healthcare workers can follow these tips:
- Avoid long daytime naps, but take some rest periods. Prolonged napping can upset the sleep rhythm and prevent sleep at night.
- Shift workers should take some days off to be able to fully recover from sleep debt and get complete rest, aside from catching up on family and personal time. Stress can also be relieved by having more time with family and friends.
- At bedtime, keep a dark environment, and use the bed only for sleeping, avoiding any kind of work on the bed. Avoid watching TV or using the computer just before sleeping. Light reading and soft music may help induce sleep.
- Use bright light during waking periods, but dim or no light at bedtime. This helps in tricking the body into adapting to a cycle similar to day and night timing.
One must exercise regularly, but not before bedtime. Light exercise like gentle stretching and yoga may be done, but heavy night-time exercise may decrease sleepiness. Morning exercises are the best to promote healthy sleeping habits.
- A healthy, well balanced diet which includes antioxidants for increased immunity to stress and other health problems is recommended. Diet supplements like vitamins and minerals may be likewise taken to boost immunity and proper nutrition when lacking.
- Avoid heavy foods loaded with sugar and fat, especially before sleeping time. These food, plus junk food and beverages can act as stimulants and increase metabolism. If taken habitually it can also lead to obesity and cause more health problems.
- Avoid coffee, tea, alcohol and smoking. These contain stimulants like caffeine and nicotine that promote wakefulness and energy, but at the same time may bring about the feeling of fatigue.
- Report any health problems to a physician. Adequate medical treatment for snoring problems, thyroid disease, headaches and other physical problems may help in promoting good sleep.
- The use sleeping pills, melatonin, antidepressants and headache medications should be done under medical supervision.
Having a night job or working irregular hours may be a challenge, but a lot of people who choose these jobs can find satisfaction in work if they keep their body healthy. Adapting to irregular sleeping times may be learned, just as many others have, but with due concern for physical well being, family life and personal satisfaction.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.
Dr. Angelica Samarista-Giron is a medical graduate, an anesthesiologist, trained at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. She trained in clinical trial research and has a BS in Zoology and a BS in Nursing. She did several years of practice in a government hospital, where she served as the Training Officer of the Residency Program in Anesthesiology.