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How to stay healthy when you're a shift worker

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Zero hours contracts, double shifts, nights. Working irregular hours can impact our health in a negative way. A recent wide-ranging Health and Social Care Information Centre investigation found that both male and female shift workers are more likely to report ill health, be obese, have a higher diabetes risk and tend to make unhealthier lifestyle choices compared to non-shift workers.

Working shifts is by means unusual. Among the working population, 33% of men and 22% of women work odd hours outside the usual 7am to 7pm time frame, and shift work is more prevalent in the age 16 – 24 age group. So, what can you do to boost your wellbeing and minimise the risks if you work funny hours? Read on to get some advice.

Shift worker

Focus on your sleep

Decent sleep is essential for good health. Shift work can thoroughly mess with your sleep, so taking steps to improve the quality of your sleep is key. Trying to catch 40 winks when the sun is blazing outside and temperatures are soaring is no mean feat. Think about snapping up blackout curtains or a sleep mask to block out any slumber-disrupting light. Ear plugs or listening to calming nature sounds via headphones will deal with annoying daytime noise. Investing in a tower or high-velocity fan is the way forward for both its cooling effect and calming whirring sound.

Remove the caffeine

You don't want anything to keep you awake once you're ready for bed and that includes stimulants. Avoid caffeinated drinks if you can. Double espressos are a big no-no, but it's also wise to watch your intake of certain soft drinks, sports beverages and cups of tea, which contain high-ish levels of caffeine. Instead, opt for juices and soothing herbal teas such as chamomile and lemon balm to calm the senses and get you ready for bed.

Master the art of the micro-nap

Shift workers tend to be sleep-deprived, so it's a good idea to train your body to nap for short periods of time during your breaks to catch up on precious kip. All you need is a quiet room at work with a comfy seat that you can escape to. Many people swear by mindfulness meditation to help them get off to sleep. You may also want to try nature sounds to help nail the art of napping.

Eat proper meals

It's all too easy to grab a stodgy snack, dodgy ready meal or bar of chocolate from the petrol station if you're working nights and nothing's open. But a diet of junk food won't do your health and general wellbeing any favours. Do your grocery shopping online when you can't make it to the supermarket and if you don't have time to cook from scratch every night, try to set aside one night a week or a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday to rustle up something healthy.

Exercise when you can

Working funny hours can play havoc with your exercise schedule, especially if you can't make it to the gym or one of your exercise classes. For those days or nights when the gym is out of the question, improvise and follow a simple no equipment bodyweight workout video on YouTube, MSN Health & Fitness or a similar site. You could also try running or cycling to work, and even climbing the stairs during your breaks.

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