(Not) Working 9 to 5

Picture it! As I write this post, somewhere in the world it’s the middle of the night and even though most will be snug in their beds, there will be someone, somewhere – working!

Alan, a person close to my heart, is currently sitting in the waiting room of his local GP. He has digestive complaints, most probably a nasty ulcer, and is experiencing fatigue, most probably because he finds it difficult to catch a decent sleep. When I ask him what he ate during his nightshift, he replies impishly that he grazed on snacks from the vending machine and also ‘grabbed’ a burger from a nearby fast food outlet. On seeing my frown he immediately makes his case– ‘there was no other place open and even if there was I wouldn’t have had time to sit down and eat it’. Alan began shift work only five years ago.

The reality is that we are fast becoming a society that never stops. Traditionally it was always the emergency services provided by the police, fire brigades and medics who operated throughout a 24 hour period. Now shift work is becoming increasingly frequent in other industries and services. As this trend towards late-shift work continues, concern heightens about the potential health consequences. As people work irregular hours, their daily routine is interrupted and regular eating and exercise habits are difficult to maintain. Shift-workers are more likely to become overweight and as a result are at increased risk of digestive problems, heart disease and stroke. This is due to the fact that they are eating at a time when the digestive system is usually resting and their opportunities for physical activity and participation in sports are limited.

So what advice would I give to Alan? The first would be to stop, stand still and catch your breath! Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Be very organised. Plan your meals for the week ahead. Many shift-workers experience ill-health because they feel too tired to eat properly, or they don’t have the time to prepare healthy nutritious meals. Try ‘batch-cooking’ on your days off so you can stock up for when you are working.
  2. Eat meals according to the day – not the shift. Afternoon workers should have their main meal in the middle of the day, not in the middle of their shift and those working nights should eat their main meal before their shift starts, preferably between 5 and 7pm.3-4am is a time when people tend to feel more tired and sleepy so be prepared. Grazing on snacks high in calories and fat is a habit associated with shift work so bring a grazing box to work- Fill an airtight lunchbox with healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts or homemade popcorn and keep nearby for when hunger strikes.
  3. Hydrate. Keep a bottle of water at your workstation or work vehicle and drink regularly throughout your shift. Don’t rely on sugary drinks to give you a boost as they will only make you feel more tired in the long run.
  4. Stay active and keep an eye on your weight. Fit some physical activity into your day, this gives you more energy, improves mood and aids a restful sleep. Eating a healthy balanced diet and being physically active helps us achieve a healthier weight. Check if you need to lose weight at Stop the Spread. For specific food and activity advice on losing weight visit Weigh2Live.
  5. ZZZZzzzs. Ensure you get adequate sleep. Try and avoid large meals and stimulants like coffee for at least 1-2 hours before your main sleep. Eating a breakfast before your day sleep helps avoid waking from hunger.

Dr Phil Tucker from Swansea University explained more about the  challenges faced by shiftworkers (PDF, 800KB) during our recent All-island Obesity Action Forum workshop on workplace health.

Posted: 13/07/2012 10:28:14 by Emily Kelleher
Filed under: Obesity, Snacks, Treats, Weight loss

About Me

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Emily Kelleher
Hi, my name is Emily Kelleher and I am a Human Health and Nutrition Research Fellow at safefood. I’m a public health graduate with a keen interest in obesity and cardiovascular health and my day to day business involves reviewing the literature and report writing! When not buried in paper, I love the outdoors and at the weekend you will usually either find me on top of Torc Mountain in my beautiful hometown of Killarney or hiding behind a random lonely planet book planning my next adventure.