While many of us start logging off from work when the clock strikes five in the afternoon, many others are either still halfway through their shift or just about to begin working. These people whose work schedules fall outside the “standard” day shift (e.g., 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.) are referred to as shift workers.
Shift work system has long been implemented in different establishments such as hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, entertainment businesses, security agencies, transport establishments, hospitals, and health care industries where some employees are required to work all night long to keep the wheels of the economy turning. With the quick expansion of the BPO industry, however, a shift worker nowadays is more likely a BPO employee. As their number continue to grow, more and more Filipinos now find themselves working during odd hours of the day.
Shift work can wreak havoc on health
Some shift workers may find it more advantageous to work on a non-traditional schedule because of the easier commute, less traffic, and less noise, not to mention the additional differential pay (for night-shift workers) that employees on a regular day shift do not receive. But with these advantages also comes a few consequences that can wreak havoc on overall health.
For one, shift work forces the body to work against nature; it utterly confuses and disrupts the internal body clock which regulates hormones, metabolism, and other biological processes. For another, working during odd hours also causes a change in eating behaviors among employees. According to studies, shift workers tend to have altered meal patterns, skip meals, and consume more food at unconventional times. They also show higher consumption of unhealthy foods, such as saturated fats and soft drinks.
A combination of these factors can put employees at risk for a range of health issues such as cardiovascular disorders (hypertension, ischaemic heart diseases) gastrointestinal problems (colitis, gastroduodenitis, and peptic ulcer) and even cancer.
Healthy Eating Tips for Shift workers
While you can't change the fact that shift work messes with your body, you can change what you put in your mouth to prevent and address the health risks. Below are some tips to help yourself stay on track with healthy eating while working on a non-traditional schedule.
Pack healthy meals and snacks
If you are a shift worker, you know that there is simply less opportunity to make healthy choices given the time of your shift. While a dayshift employee may opt to order healthy food online or head to a nearby cafeteria to look for a decent meal during lunch break, there isn’t that same opportunity when your break is during the wee hours of the morning. Often, you will resort to buying from 24-hour fast food restaurants or convenient stores where the food typically contains extra calories, sugar, saturated fat, and salt, but do not keep you full for long.
The best way to avoid falling into the trap of unhealthy convenience food items is to prepare your own home-cooked food and bring it to work. While you’re at it, make sure to include plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and foods high in protein.
Aim to maintain a regular eating pattern regardless of your shift
While many shift workers tend to have altered eating patterns, as many studies suggest, maintaining a regular eating pattern is not as hard as you think even while working on a non-traditional schedule. The following are the tips you can follow to make sure your eating habit stays as regular as it should be.
- Eat every three to four hours: aim for three main meals and two to three snacks in a 24-hour period
- Eat according to the time of day: breakfast foods in the morning, lunch foods in the middle of the day and dinner foods in the evening
- Late at night, eat snacks that contain protein instead of a large meal at a time when you would normally be sleeping
- Eat a small meal after your shift so you don’t go to bed hungry
- Watch your portion sizes – make sure you don’t overeat.
Avoid high fat, fried, or spicy foods
If you want to be able to fall asleep fast once you get home from work, not eating foods that are either too fatty or spicy would be a wise decision. These foods may not only contribute too many calories on your diet but also cause indigestion can result to 'heartburn'.
Skip sweet snacks
During your shift, you may find yourself grabbing sugary foods and drinks to try and give yourself a quick energy boost. These foods may give you a short burst of energy but can leave you feeling sluggish later.
Go for snacks with a low protein that will provide energy when you start to feel tired and hungry. Examples of snacks to try include a handful of nuts with fruit, hard-boiled egg, and a few whole grain cracker and yogurt with berries.
Cut down on caffeine
When working late hours, you may feel the need to fight sleepiness at work and rely on caffeine to stay awake and alert. However, too much caffeine may not only make you feel nervous or irritable but also upset your stomach and interfere with your much needed rest at the end of the shift.
Switch to decaffeinated tea or coffee, or herbal teas to keep your energy levels up for the rest of the shift while still allowing you to sleep when you get home. If you really must drink caffeinated drinks, do so 6 hours before sleeping.
Take active breaks
Uninterrupted sitting is bad for the health. When you are working, regardless of the schedule, do some stretches during your break. Walk up a flight of stairs or go for a brisk walk. Being active at work will give you energy to finish your shift, improve your mood, and help you sleep better.