By: Alice Robertson
If you have a 9-to-5 job, your only real challenge from a schedule standpoint is to get to bed on time, set the alarm clock and make sure the kids are up and ready for school. If, however, you’re a shift worker, things are quite different. Your body has to adjust to changes in sleep patterns to working at different times of the day or night and finding ways to maintain a normal social life. That can be tough if you’re not used to it. But if you maintain a healthy sleep routine, eat right and find ways to exercise, you might find working the graveyard shift actually agrees with you.
Keep your energy up
It’s tough to maintain the energy level you need working at odd times if you’re not taking care of yourself. That means eating a healthy diet, getting enough protein, and paying careful attention to the five basic food groups. Think of your body as a machine that needs the right fuel in the proper proportion. It’s important not to skimp on mealtimes or settling for the cheap and easy route by grabbing something from the vending machine at work because you didn’t make time for a healthy, well-rounded dinner before your shift. In fact, shift workers may need a healthful dietary schedule more than non-shift workers. Establishing a regular rhythm in your eating habits will go a long way in supporting your work schedule. It may take some doing, especially if it means eating breakfast at 8:30 p.m., lunch at 3:30 or 4 a.m., and dinner at 8 or 9 a.m. Stick to that routine.
Sleeping the right way
Between 25 and 30 percent of shift workers struggle with insomnia and fatigue, and 10 percent of night shift workers suffer from shift work disorder. This is usually the most difficult part of being a shift worker, especially if you’re accustomed to the traditional 8-to-5 work schedule. Try establishing blocks of time for sleeping that you’ll observe no matter what happens.
Getting the sleep you need is particularly important if your job is an especially stressful one. If you’re getting restful sleep, you’re better equipped to handle the daily challenges that cause stress. If you’re feeling tired, the chances you’ll lose patience increase. Remember, statistics show that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep to perform adequately. Good sleep habits and other self-care habits can be helpful to individuals who struggle with anxiety, depression and some form of substance addiction. Maintain habits that are conducive to good sleep by eliminating all light and turning off all screens in your sleep environment.
On the other hand, technology can actually help you sleep better if you buy the right products. To block out daytime sounds, invest in a white-noise machine. A vibrating alarm clock won’t make your heart race when you wake. If you leave any light on, make sure it’s the type that filters blue light. And if you must have your phone with you in the bedroom, there are a variety of apps that can help you get a good day’s rest.
Being a shift worker can make things difficult on a spouse or partner. You’re on polar opposite schedules, which means you’re sleeping when your partner’s up and about. Set up an event calendar that helps track events and activities that are important to your family so you can adjust your sleep and work situation accordingly. Make sure your kids understand why your schedule is so different, and why you have to sleep during the day. As much as possible, maintain small family customs that mean a lot to your children.
Working a job with hours you’re not used to can be a difficult adjustment for you and your family. Once you get into the groove and achieve the sleep and nourishment you need, the schedule will feel natural and you don’t have to sacrifice your family to the needs of your job.
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