Monday, 3 April 2017

Looking After Your Health - As a Shift Worker!

  As a shift worker, reading over any sort of health guide or advice tends to just make me feel sad, because so much of it is just impossible for people like me who work massively inconsistent hours.

  Make sure you go to sleep at the same time every night, says the advice page. Well, that's all very well and good, but it doesn't quite work for people like me who sometimes finish work at 11am, sometimes at 10pm, sometimes at 2am and sometimes at 6am. At what time exactly IS it that I'm supposed to be aiming for?

  Make sure you never eat a meal after 8pm, says the health guidance. Okay, but what about those days that I start work at 10pm? Should I just starve for the whole night, and train my body to just expect no energy after that time? The guidelines and advice pages are full of information telling you how you're going to make yourself ill and should expect a life full of stress and a much earlier death if you're one of those that run on inconsistent patterns - but for those of us who work shifts, we don't have a choice. I've been working shifts for around four years now, and so I finally consider myself qualified to offer some advice on looking after your health that's a bit more useful to those of us out there who are stuck in the wonderful world of shift work.

Getting to sleep - and waking up again!
This is probably the big one - how do you make sure you get the right amount of sleep? Well, you just need to be realistic about this one. If you're like me and work shifts that are starting and finishing all over the place, you're probably just not going to, but you can do what you can to improve it. If your room is dark enough, I've found that using a wake up alarm works wonders for me in helping me to wake up naturally. Equally, I've found that the best way to sleep during the day if you're coming off a night shift is to wear an eye mask- however most of them I really struggle to sleep with, but I've got one that looks a bit like a bra that you wear on your face as it's made from memory foam and leaves a bit of a gap between the mask and your eye. This works best for me as it doesn't feel like something is touching my face and rubbing my eyes the whole damn time!

The main bit of advice I can give here is to just learn your own body and what it needs. When you've figured out how much sleep you work best on each night, just aim for that. Don't try and force yourself to sleep if you don't want to as all you're going to do is lie there getting angry about the fact that nothing is happening. Naps do absolutely nothing for me - 90% of the time I can't actually do them despite how exhausted I am and whenever I do manage it they leave me feeling worse than I was when I started. I KNOW this, so I don't try. If it's a night shift and I have woken up by 10am, I just get on with my day and try again the next day - I know my body and I know that if I try to sleep again, all that will happen is I will get very angry and get absolutely nowhere, so for me it's better to just try to work on my health and my energy the rest of the day.

Keep a calendar
I find that colour coding my calendar works out really well for me. I use red for early shifts, purple for late ones, grey for night ones, and yellow for shifts that are unusual or don't normally fit into the panel. This works best for me as it means that I can very quickly scan through my calendar and work out what I'm up to and try to fit things in that way. If you're in a relationship, I'd recommend getting a family calendar for your fridge even if it's just the two of you. We use a cute owl calendar we got from WH Smiths (a mid year version of the one I've got is available here!) and it works wonders for both myself and for keeping our relationship healthy. We use the 2nd and 3rd columns to each write our rota in so that we can quickly scan through to see if we've got any matches. We then have a column each to fill our plans in, and the final column is for writing in stuff that we're planning on doing together.

Good eating habits
Eating right can be really difficult. If you're working late, not much is open and it's hard to avoid ending up in a kebab shop at 4am when there's no other options. If you live in London, things are getting a bit easier as night tube has brought some more 24 hour Tesco's with it, but on the whole it's still pretty difficult. I would suggest that you try to eat consistently throughout the day, but when it comes to nights it can be a bit more challenging. If you're new to working nights, you may find it really difficult to eat at night, but it's important you give it a try. I would recommend just going for something simple like some noodles and some fruit. I know, really studenty, but for a while at least you'll probably find that your stomach really hurts if you eat too much during the night, so it's best to keep it simple but keep your energy going.

Don't forget to exercise
People who don't work shifts really underestimate just how tiring they are. You're up at all sorts of times and you're never quite regulating your sleep properly, so it's difficult to find the time to get exercise in. Try and log it directly into your calendar, as doing so means you're much more likely to commit to it. I'm lucky enough now that my apartment has a gym in it and so it's much easier to find the time to go as all I have to do is take the lift downstairs, but before that I used a gym with a nice big sauna. It was expensive, but sitting around in the water got me into the mood to do something more, and I didn't mind filling time with going as I loved the sauna area so much!

Take care of your feet!
You'll probably find that your body starts to suffer - for me it's my arms and my feet. As a shift worker, you'll probably find that you're on your feet a really disproportionate amount of time and it really starts to show after a while. In my work shoes, I've got these gel work insoles from Scholl that cost £14.99 and are a lifesaver for me at times as they make my boots feel like I'm walking on clouds! Outside of work, you're probably still finding yourself on your feet more than you should be, so it's important to make sure you're looking after them correctly. I recently went for a full body massage, and the masseuse was horrified when she got to my feet as she said they were so swollen from working so hard, so I've really tried to increase the amount of care that I give them. If you've got time, soak them in water with whatever creams or gels you fancy, but otherwise I find just giving them a good moisturising and massage with a really good cream (I use body shop body butters!) helps a lot.

As well as your work wear, you can help your poor suffering feet the rest of the day too - I've been giving Superdrug's new footcare range - pictured in the photo above - a try after they kindly sent some of their products out to me. My poor feet still groan when I STILL expect them to be in action after a long day at work and limited sleep, and so I've been sticking these smaller products into some of my other shoes to help them out a little. The range starts from just £3.95 and you can choose which is the most applicable to you - the products are easy to use as you just peel the backs off and stick them in your shoes in the correct part, and they're really easy to remove and adjust as well. The products include heel cushions, ball of foot cushions, and arch supports so you can choose the ones that are most relevant to you.

Make yourself a mini shift survival drawer
In my case, this is a literal thing - but yours doesn't have to be! If there's any shifts that you really suffer with, then build up a little collective of items in the couple of days before to help make this time pass by. For me, it's night shifts. I hate them, I can always feel myself becoming ill during them and my concentration span is so low and my skin feels awful. As such, I save myself some really awful mindless TV to watch during this time and make sure I've got one or two little celebrity gossip magazines to read. I store up lots of snacks as I'll probably only be getting about four hours sleep so will be needing an awful lot of energy - and then some fruits to try and balance it out. I eat and drink a lot of rubbish during these shifts and I don't feel bad for it, as it's the only way I can get through them sometimes! My skin also suffers during these times, so I make sure to keep an extra strong moisturiser in there alongside a face mask to remind myself to try to treat my poor face every once in a while.

Take your vitamins!
Working shifts really DOES make you feel ill. I've seen colleagues that are almost never well anymore, whereas for myself it's again just the peril of night shifts - it's really not unusual for me to be feeling the beginnings of a cold when I'm coming off nights. I've been taking Berocca for over two years now, and it has made a massive difference for me. It's very unusual for me to be ill now, to the extent that I can sometimes tell when I've forgotten to take it (particularly when going abroad when it all goes out the window due to time differences!) as I feel myself having to work harder to battle whatever nasties are invading! They are a little pricey but I find the ones that dissolve in the drinks are always better. You can try own brands which give you pretty much identical amounts of all the vitamins, I've tried a couple but personally haven't found one that tastes very nice yet so I stick with Berocca. Boots sells them here, and I recommend buying a couple of boxes in a go as they're quite often on 3 for 2 offers so it's worth stocking up whenever you see them!

What are your tips for staying healthy whilst working shifts?
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