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Work Your Body Clock

Humans operate on a 24 hour clock and most of us are designed to work during the day. However 1 in 5 of us work better late in the evening and naturally sleep a bit later into the morning and 10% of us work best from about 5 in the morning and need to go to bed earlier than everyone else.

Regardless of our chronotype (that’s the scientific word for the types of sleep pattern we just described), we all work best with 7-9 hours sleep.

Due to the nature of the work, sometimes shift workers are working against their natural body clock.

The secret to being a healthy shift worker is to understand how your body clock works and making an extra effort to support your mind and body so that you maintain good health.

Top tips for priming your body clock

Light blocks our sleep hormone and also primes our wakefulness. Natural light is by far the most powerful. To feel more awake and alert spend time outside in daylight.

If sleeping during the day, limit your exposure to light as much as possible. E.g. If driving home from work wear sunglasses or a peaked hat as long as it does not make you drowsy or compromise your safety.

After sleeping, if you are working late again and if it is still light, go outdoors for at least 15 minutes. This helps you feel more alert for your late shift.

Being exposed to bright light during your night shift helps with wakefulness. It’s not as effective as daylight but can improve alertness.

When going to bed at a ‘normal’ time in the evening avoid outdoor light or any bright lights in the few hours before bed. This will help you sleep better.

Why Shift Workers Should Make Health A priority

Working against your body clock can put a strain on your body and more so as we get older.

When we get very tired we use our stress hormone called cortisol to help us push through that tiredness. Too much cortisol is inflammatory. This is one reasons why shift workers can be at higher risk of illness.

Frequent use of energy drinks,  excessive caffeine or sugary and overly processed foods also significantly increases the risk for fatigue and illness.

Food and our body clock

Digestion and metabolism works at it’s best for most of us earlier in the day.

Eating heavily processed foods late at night is one of the reasons why so many shift workers suffer with irritable bowel or digestive issues.

Instead, eat smaller meals of high protein food that’s easily digested when working a late or very early shift and have your main meal of the day before going on an evening or night shift. See how that works for you.

We are also more likely to store fat by eating late at night or during the night.

Finally…

Despite being at higher risk of some illnesses when you are working shifts you can compensate for this and have excellent health. 

It is your responsibility to look after yourself and do your very best to adhere to a healthy lifestyle. 

Your future self will thank you for it!