Shift workers know the drill. Your sleep schedule gets thrown out of whack which then rolls over into your daily life and of course what you eat and when you eat it. Everything just gets thrown upside down, but how are we supposed to help ourselves when it’s a part of our job? It may take some extra knowledge of food and some preparations, but it is very much doable and we’re here to show you the way.
For those of you who are unaware, shift work refers to any work that is being done outside of the normal 9 – 5 hours. These schedules are customarily done by those working as doctors, nurses, and emergency medical workers as well as pilots, flight attendants and much more. The shifts can be 12 hours long, overnight, or be a full-blown 48 to 72-hour shift. It’s a lot of wear and tear on the body and can be an enormous mental and physical challenge for those that take these jobs on.
One of the biggest issues we see is how the shifts affect our overall health. Naturally, sleep will be put through its hardships, that’s something that we don’t have much control over with needing to be awake throughout certain hours. However, our nutrition is something we can take a hold of and control. The best thing about it; when we can take control of our food, we are able to not only do our jobs better but also sleep better. Creating a cycle of good; if we let it.
As mentioned before, it does take some preparations. These preparations are one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, and why shift workers find it so difficult to stay on top of their health. Not only does the difficulty of planning meals and snacks make it hard to commit, but also the limiting time to consume them and the far too easily accessible break room snacks that aren’t good for you. So what should we be eating?
Okay, we shouldn’t be eating hormones, but it’s another point in showing how important it is for us to eat properly. When we do shift work and alter our schedules the way we do, we create hormone imbalances. For instance, when we have sleep deprivation and sleep interruptions from night shift work, we disrupt our melatonin production. This is due to the decline in light and the sunshine which usually gives us that boost we need. Then there is cortisol, our stress hormone. Not surprisingly, when we don’t sleep well or regularly, we are creating stress within our bodies. On top of this, we have the two hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone, makes you feel hungry but can also make you feel constantly hungry or not hungry at all. Leptin controls metabolism, fat storage and appetite and when it’s low, you’ll feel much more hungry. All of these hormones turning irregular is, and should be, one of the biggest reasons you strive to create a healthy schedule for yourself!
The key word we are going to use here is balance. What we want to do is have an even balance of protein (Greek yoghurt, protein bars, nuts, nut butter, cheese, eggs, and meat) and fiber (fruit, vegetables, oats, and beans). Then what we can do is pair these together and utilize them as snacks. We can create such combinations as:
- Greek yoghurt with fruit
- Baby vegetables dipped in Cottage Cheese
- A deli meat wrap with lettuce
- Hummus and plain corn chips
- Mixed nuts with dried fruit
- Sliced apples dipped in nut butter
- Banana and peanut butter smoothies
Any combination you can come up with will help your overall health and more so, will give you the energy you need to continue and keep you that little bit fuller for longer.
Regular Scheduled Meals
Although the out-of-ordinary working times causes regularly scheduled meals to be completely different, there is still a system we can stick to. Let’s say on a regular day; you eat your meals and snacks at 8 am, 10 am, 1:30 pm, 4 pm and maybe 7 pm. This means that on an irregular shift work day, you should also be eating in the same amount of time. For example, if you are working the night shift and waking up at around 6 pm, you could look to eat at 7 pm, 11 pm, 3 am, and 5 am and then have breakfast before you head to bed around 8 am.
Water Over Coffee
Of course, you’ll be consuming a, hopefully, somewhat normal amount of caffeinated beverages while you’re working. However, water should always be the number one priority throughout your shift. Yes, you could argue there is water in coffee, but hydration will overall help your health, improve your sleep and give you the energy you need to stay focused throughout your work. If you can’t just drink straight water because it makes you feel nauseous, opt for teas, add fruits to your water for flavor or water additions like crystal light. Just be wary of how much caffeine you are consuming. The last thing you need is to be working for so long then go home and be unable to sleep!
We are grateful to all of the shift workers out there. You take on a role not many are willing to do. With that being said, along with the responsibilities you take on, you also need to make sure you are being responsible for yourself. Taking care of your health has the potential to alter how you work and what you can bring to your shift. That means making sure you are eating correctly and eating the proper foods, staying hydrated and then once you get home, sleeping. It’s a cycle that you can conquer, you just need to apply a little self-care to the recipe first.