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Prioritising your health as a shift worker

Shift work offers greater flexibility than the typical nine-five job. It can mean skipping the commute at rush-hour, convenience when running errands, and childcare flexibility for parents with young children.

It brings more than enough advantages to attract workers, particularly for those ready to welcome a new challenge. Plus, diverse industries such as hospitality and transportation rely heavily on shift workers to meet their requirements.

However, research indicates that working irregular or extended hours can have adverse effects on your health and wellbeing.

It’s important to remember that no two people are ever the same. Some individuals adapt quickly and thrive under these working conditions, while others never properly adjust.

We’re going to explore some of the issues you could experience as a shift worker. We’re also going to delve into some different ways you can mitigate these risks to ensure you’re prioritising your health and happiness, not only at work, but throughout all areas of your life.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is the obvious challenge for shift workers, as the normal sleep cycle is generally disrupted. In fact, they get on average three hours less sleep a night than a non-shift worker. This can result in extended fatigue, mood swings and physical strain on the body.

Managing sleep deprivation

  • Stay cool. A lowered body temperature will assist with both falling and staying asleep. This is particularly important to remember over summer.

  • Let your family, housemates or neighbours know when you’ll be sleeping during the day so they can be mindful of noise levels and postponing activities such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn.

  • Reduce light levels with black-out blinds or curtains.

  • Even if you’re struggling to sleep, aim to stay in bed for a set number of hours. Rest is still beneficial for recovery.

  • Avoid caffeine in the last few hours of your shift to ensure the effects are out of your system by the time you come to rest.

  • Try not to become frustrated if you can’t fall asleep immediately. You could read a book, meditate, or engage in another activity you enjoy where your body can rest.

Increased health risks

Our brains are programmed to sleep at night and be at their most active during the day. Throwing off this pattern puts you at increased risk of many health concerns such as digestive upsets, weight gain, mental health conditions, and cardiovascular disease.


Managing these health risks

  • Find time between shifts to exercise and build fitness.

  • A balanced and nutritious diet is essential. Aim for meals that are easy to digest and will sustain you for long periods of time.

  • Avoid foods that are high in sugar as they will make your blood sugar spike leaving you tired.

  • Be conscious of overeating, particularly when fatigued. Extra food eaten late at night can be stored as fat, instead of converted to energy.

  • Check in with a Doctor and talk through any health concerns you have arising from shift work.

Increased risk of accidents and injury

Unfortunately, there’s a direct correlation between shift work and increased risk of workplace accidents.

Sleepiness can affect our behaviour, alertness, reaction time, decision making, and mental capacity.

This increased risk of occupational injury is also linked to less supervision and managerial support that typically occurs during night shifts.


Managing occupational injury

  • Speak to your managers, supervisors or a health and safety representative about any concerns you have regarding workload, overtime, or shift rotation.

  • Familiarise yourself with company safety policies and be sure to ask questions or request additional training if you need further clarity or support.

  • If possible, take regular short breaks where you can stand up, stretch, and walk around.

Social isolation

As most people still tend to work a traditional nine-to-five job, shift workers risk developing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

You may be struggling to find time to interact with your friends or family members, due to missing out on social events which are typically held on evenings and weekends. It might also feel like no one is around to talk to when you do have free time, due to your diverted lifestyle.


Managing your social life

  • Plan ahead. This will allow you to make the most of your time. Schedule regular and meaningful catchups with your loved ones in advance.

  • Share your roster with your friends and family. This way they can factor you in to their social events.

  • Invite co-workers with similar schedules to socialise outside of work, so you can take advantage of fewer crowds and off-peak times for activities.

  • Be sure your social life doesn’t infringe upon the time you need to rest and recover in between your shifts.

Shift work is a convenient and adaptable option that suits the lifestyle of so many individuals. It’s vital however, to prioritise and manage your health to ensure you’re happy and fulfilled at work and in life.