5 Tips for Staying Healthy While Working the Night Shift
Published: December 12, 2019
As a result of the globalized nature of business process outsourcing (BPO), it’s rare to have a 9 to 5 schedule if you’re working in a BPO agency in the Philippines. Since most companies cater to countries based in the west, the resulting time difference requires that most teams follow a nighttime schedule. This allows for optimal coordination between the agencies and the companies that they service. However, it may also cause a few health problems for those who are assigned to night shifts. But why is that?
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First: Why Does Working Night Shifts Compromise Your Health?
Unfortunately, humans are a diurnal species. This means that our bodies have evolved to be active during the day and to focus on conserving energy and healing during the night. Consequently, staying awake all night and sleeping during the daytime can be harmful for the human body’s overall health. Primarily, it’s because the flipped routine disrupts an individual’s natural circadian rhythm, which is vital for keeping our bodily functions running normally throughout a 24-hour period. The term Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) has even been coined to help describe the effects that this type of schedule can have on an individual. But what’s more, trusted local medical sources also agree that the nature of the modern workplace can have additional ill-effects for our health.
Primarily, what makes a modern office-bound job unhealthy is the resulting sedentary nature of the typical worker. This can lead to a host of health issues, ranging from back problems and increased risk of type 2 diabetes to a greater chance of developing heart diseases and certain types of cancer. And because most of our time at work is spent in front of a computer screen, the amount of blue light our eyes receive can increase the amount of eye strain we experience. Meanwhile, this type of light is similar to the blue parts of the sun’s rays which can further trick our body into thinking that the sun is still up. This can worsen a case of SWSD, resulting in highly irregular sleep schedules, as well as further disruptions to our body’s natural metabolism.
Thankfully, having to work nights shouldn’t have to be a gloomy experience. In fact, there are still ways to keep your body healthy despite working the night shift. Here are just five tips to help you do just that:
Maximize the Sleep You Can Get
Unfortunately, one of the most direct results of working in the evening is that you’ll be awake while the sun is still out. This can indeed be hard for most people, but it’s the one thing you shouldn’t overlook. Because unnatural sleeping patterns tend to be one of the leading causes of health problems for workers in the night shift, you’ll want to maximize the amount of sleep you can get.
First, it’s ideal to avoid using your gadgets for an hour or so before you plan to sleep. This lessens the chances that the blue light interferes with your brain’s natural desire to get some much-needed rest. But once you get home, it’s important to simulate nighttime conditions as close as you can. First, you can keep your sleeping quarters as dark as possible by putting up thick and dark-colored curtains. And if your room has it, it’ll also help to have your air conditioning turned on to a comfortably cool level. But if you’re still having a hard time falling asleep, you might want to consider wearing a sleeping mask and putting on earplugs to further block out excess brightness and loud noises. Through these methods, you can help your body fall asleep more naturally and keep a healthy amount of sleep per day.
Exercise More Often
In general, exercising more often can greatly improve your body’s general health. Also, regular exercise can help prevent health conditions that are tied to working nights. Some of these include certain types of heart diseases and cancers, as well as declining bone density from general inactivity.
However, it’s best for night shift workers to make sure that their exercise routine doesn’t interfere with their sleep schedule. This is to avoid the unwanted rush of endorphins that get triggered by a workout, which can make it harder to fall asleep. It’s best to schedule your workouts for after you wake up in the late afternoon or early evening. And this way, you can also give yourself a boost in alertness to help you stay up through your shift.
Avoid Alcoholic Beverages
For some, hard work should be met with an equal amount of celebration. Unfortunately, these can tend to involve a fair amount of alcohol—especially after a particularly tough week. Though consuming alcohol may be a fun way to let off some steam and even have a sedative effect to help you sleep, alcoholic beverages still do a lot more harm than good for our bodies.
To start, remember that alcoholic beverages are naturally toxic substances that can be taxing for the human body’s liver to filter out. And despite the liver’s self-regenerative quality, cumulative damage can cause incomplete healing and even scarring—eventually leading to cirrhosis. The risks can be even greater for those who already have disrupted circadian rhythms from working nights. Hence, you’ll want to reduce your alcohol intake or even avoid drinking altogether to keep yourself as healthy as possible.
Beware of Certain Medicines
In general, you want to keep your sleep schedule as normal as possible. This means trying to avoid disrupting it through unnecessary medication. For example, sleeping pills and other sedatives can indeed help you fall asleep amidst daylight and through lots of noise, but they can also interfere with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This is a vital part of our normal sleep patterns, and its disruption can cause drowsiness and reduced concentration when you wake up. As a result, you won’t be getting the same positive effects of a good amount of sleep with certain types of medication. However, this isn’t just caused by medicines used to help with sleep.
Certain drugs meant for allergies can also disrupt our natural sleep patterns and make it harder to fall asleep. For example, you shouldn’t take pseudoephedrine near the end of your shift as it may cause unwanted alertness. On the other hand, antihistamines like diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate can have side effects that include drowsiness. This means that you should avoid taking them in the middle of your shift if you don’t want to get caught napping on the job.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
As with our previous point on increased exercise, maintaining a healthy diet is important for staying healthy in general. However, some aspects of SWSD can have some weird effects on an individual’s metabolism, making it easier to accidentally over-eat. Indeed, healthy eating is vital for making sure you avoid the usual health issues that may come with working night shifts and should not be overlooked.
For starters, try to stick to eating 3 satisfying meals within a 24-hour period as closely as possible. This should help keep your digestive system’s natural rhythm as normal as possible. It’s also best to eat more of whole foods, lean meat, eggs, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. Meanwhile, beverages rich in antioxidants such as certain fruit juices and teas can also be good for your health. However, make sure that these drinks are unsweetened. After all, too much sugar can be harmful to your diet and can affect your alertness during your shift.
For BPO agencies in the Philippines, normal daytime operations isn’t always applicable. This is especially true if the agency caters mostly to companies in Europe or North America, resulting in a marked difference in time zones. However, this can cause unwanted health issues for those who need to take on night shifts to keep the agency competitive. But these health risks can be reasonably addressed through a healthier lifestyle and a more regimented schedule that maximizes the amount of sleep as much as possible. Once you’ve allowed your body to adapt, you’ll even find that you have strengthened yourself enough to keep your body in top shape and stave off the usual issues that come with working night shifts.