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Shift Working


The business demands of some establishments require the presence of workers to perform various tasks at all times of the day, whether for production, customer care or sales. This is usually done by dividing a day into three 8-hour work shifts and assigning groups of personnel to work at each shift.

While shift work may be beneficial to a business, performing work in the wee hours of the morning when the body is supposed to be sound asleep, can take its toll on the health of those working on a graveyard or nighttime shift.

The problem with shift working at night is that it disrupts the body's circadian rhythm or internal body clock. Generally, the human body uses daylight to synchronize itself with the environment while it responds to nighttime by falling asleep. When the circadian rhythm is disturbed, the body suppresses the production of melatonin at night. Aside from inducing restful sleep, melatonin is also believed to be a tumour suppressant.

While studies have yet to show conclusive findings that work shift is a health risk, the results provide startling correlations between a disruption of the circadian rhythm in people and numerous diseases like cancer. In reaction to these studies, the World Health Organization or WHO has listed "working on the graveyard shift" or the night shift as a possible cause of cancer.

Other health problems that have been linked to shift work include:

  • cardiovascular diseases
  • fatigue
  • stomach disorders like ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and
  • menstrual disorders

Proper nutrition for shift working

For most of us, working the night shift is not an option, but a necessity. If such is your situation, then you need to strengthen your body by following a nutritious diet and finding opportunities to do some light exercises even with your schedule. Here's how:

  • Pack your own meals to work: Food choices at the work place, particularly when it's late at night, can be limited to junk food, snack items, caffeinated beverages and energy drinks. It is still possible for you to make healthy food choices by bringing your own food supplies like sandwiches and fruits.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables: A diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can supply you with nutrients to boost your immune system, fight stress, and maintain regular energy levels. Avoid fried or sugar-laden foods as well as those with high amounts of saturated fat. These foods can give you more calories than your body can burn.
  • Energy drinks are also unhealthy for you as these contain excessive amounts of sugar that cause sudden bursts of energy but leave you feeling drained when the sugar wears off and caffeine which is known to cause palpitations.
  • Another way to maintain balanced energy levels all throughout your night shift is to spread out your meals by eating small portions at regular intervals rather than having two or three heavy ones
  • Feed your brain with protein: Protein helps rebuild damaged cells all throughout your body, including your brain. It helps you stay alert without experiencing the energy spikes that sugar is notorious for. Have a peanut butter sandwich or low-fat cheese in between meals to prevent brain fog at night.
  • Find ways to move and stretch your body while at work: Go for a brisk walk, do a few repetitions of light stretches and practice breathing techniques without leaving your desk or work area. All these can energize your body, lift your mood and help you sleep better. Regular physical activity is also important to maintain a healthy bodyweight to ward off obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other health problems.

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