Our bodies operate on circadian rhythms. This internal 24-hour clock helps us know when to sleep, eat, and feel energized to get through our days. Throwing off this delicate balance can disrupt hormone levels and induce metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases a person’s risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. People who work night shifts or irregular hours are more likely to suffer from disrupted circadian rhythms. So how can we use our bodies’ natural clocks to support all employees?
There are certain key steps you can take as a worker to ensure your body is on a healthy schedule, even if your work schedule is all over the place. Sleep is a top priority. No matter where or when you work, you should focus on getting 7-8 hours at the same time every day. You should also try to schedule these hours as close to the evening as possible. Good sleep will also make you a more efficient worker. Sleep has been shown to improve problem-solving skills and tackle complex issues.
The second key element is nutrition. Research has found that shift workers tend to skip meals and opt for sugary snacks. Make sure you’re getting three meals a day in and plenty of protein and vegetables. Exercise is also important. Strive to get 60 minutes of activity a day at least five hours before bedtime.
Light is also critical. Night shift workers are at risk of missing out on the numerous circadian benefits of sunlight. Try and get at least a few good hours of light a day to feel more awake and avoid blue light 2-3 hours before bed.
Lastly, don’t forget about medicine. Certain treatments like osteopathic manipulative treatment are targeted towards shift workers and can help you get to sleep faster at irregular times of the day. Talk to your doctor about the nature of your work schedule to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and your circadian rhythms.
Irregular work shifts can be tough, but setting yourself up for success with healthy sleeping, eating, and exercise habits goes a long way in keeping your body in balance throughout the day regardless of where or when you work.