How To Make Shift Work 'Work'

Shift work affords parents time with their children, helps students fund their studies and boosts the incomes of households which may otherwise be struggling.

However, across sectors, the 1.4m Australians who regularly engage in shift work have more in common than their non-traditional working hours.

If not managed correctly, shift work can have a detrimental impact on the physical and mental states of those who undertake it. Described by the World Health Organisation as a “probable carcinogen”, shift work has been linked to heightened levels of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. On top of that, research suggests it can impair cognitive function, increase stress and lead to depression, addiction and fatigue

With our 24/7 society showing no sign of slowing down, how can shift workers take care of themselves without sacrificing their careers?

Sleep Management: Experts believe one of the best ways to limit the potentially damaging effects of shift work is to cultivate positive sleeping patterns. The National Sleep Foundation recommends sticking to the same rest and wake times each day to help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality.

Because working night shifts can throw your internal body clock out of sync with the external world, try making your bedroom as restful a space as possible by installing blackout curtains and banning digital devices. Practising deep breathing and spritzing your pillow with soothing scents can aid the winding down process.

Eat Well: When it comes to eating right, shift work presents its own unique set of challenges. Avoid the temptation to binge on sugary foods or late night takeaways by preparing nutritious meals in advance. Schedule your meals at regular intervals just as you would during the day to maintain a steady flow of energy before, during and after work.

Drink Right: Stay hydrated during your shift by drinking plenty of water. One of the easiest ways to monitor your water intake at work is to bring your H2O in a pre-measured bottle. That way, you’ll know whether or not you’re hitting the recommended 2-2.5 litres a day target.

When used effectively, caffeine can provide an added boost of energy for shift workers right when they need it. However, drinking coffee towards the end of a shift can impact the quality of sleep achieved afterwards so be mindful of when and how much you consume.

Alcohol is commonly used to induce sleep, but because it disrupts the sleep obtained it is best avoided before bed.

Bond with Your Colleagues: If anyone understands the challenges associated with working shifts, it’s your colleagues. Befriending them not only allows work to run more smoothly, it also means better communication and support during periods of high stress. If you’re feeling tired at work, it is vital to let someone know so you don’t put yourself or others in danger. The more comfortable you are with other members of staff, the easier it will be to ask for help when required.

Seek Support: One of the greatest issues faced by shift workers is balancing their personal and professional worlds. Try to allocate time for friends and family which fits in with your unique schedule to ensure you get time to interact and they don’t feel neglected because of your job.