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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

15 Tips to Manage Shift Work and Your Quality of Life

15 Tips to Manage Shift Work and Your Quality of Life
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It’s no secret that shift work schedules can take a toll on your physical well-being, emotional state, and your mental health. In industries that require 24-hour-services or work weeks that operate around 12-hour shift rotations, there can still be some resistance when bouncing from week after week[1].

Over time, the hobbies you once loved may get pushed to the side and burnouts may creep in, resulting in emotions of disconnect, isolation, and possibly unfulfillment.

Changing your lifestyle is challenging but achievable. Like most of the other things in life, it’s the act of balance that genuinely affects the quality of your life.

Here are 15 tips to enhance your quality of life when shift work may be weighing you down.

1. Discover What’s Working for You

First, ask yourself which parts of your routine are already working for you.

Recently, I have come to realize that I’m much more of a morning person than I am a night owl. I write better, my focus is clear, and I feel as if I’m working at my optimal level. Discovering this was a game-changer and has helped me grasp an understanding of how to show up physically and mentally at work.

A good starting place is taking notice of the small things that work and don’t work for you:

  • Does coffee actually make me crash when I start my shift at 11 p.m.?
  • How cluttered is my mind when I go to sleep after work versus running some of my errands first?
  • I’m missing another family function; how am I feeling at work and do I always feel this way?

Noticing these small details can enhance the overall quality of your life when you have a job that relies on shift work.

2. Take a Mental Health Day

Burnouts happen to the best of us, and even the most successful people face them.

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Everyone goes through a period of complete mental and physical exhaustion, but there are always signs leading up to a burn out, including lack of motivation, decreased satisfaction, and health problems. Taking a mental health day can help.

Shift work can be a stressful thing, especially when working hours that cause problems with your circadian rhythms, and giving your mind the relaxation and self-care that it deserves will help you make clear and healthier decisions.

3. Spend Minimal Time on Social Media

When you’re working odd hours of the day, it may be difficult to stray away from social media – the digital and interactive platforms that keep you connected with the “outside” world.

Engaging in social media is also an act of balance, and indulging in ample amounts of blue light and diving into the rabbit hole of scrolling will not only exhaust you mentally but may leave you feeling disconnected from everyone.

The digital world will always be there. Don’t forget to make time to connect with the real world, too.

4. Invest in an Eye Pillow

In reality, it’s not the morning caffeine boost that gets your day going – it’s the sleep you received the night before. Insufficient sleep can leave you feeling unfocused and affects the way you get your day started[2].

The Risks of Shift Work – Blue Block Glasses

    Eye pillows are great for those who might have sleep problems, as the essential oils infused in the silky fabric can help alleviate tension, stress, and help you achieve quality sleep.

    5. Schedule “Me” Time Every Day

    As a number, 24 hours may seem large. However, add in your 8-hour work day, everyday tasks, commuting, and other life obligations, and it might be hard to squeeze in an hour just for yourself.

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    Spending one hour by yourself and with yourself can shift the overall quality of your life. Whether it be a designating time to indulge in a book, bake a dish, free-write, or play an instrument, this is a time for you to spend it selfishly.

    6. Create Goals

    The key here is to create goals, not a laundry list of things to do.

    Curate a list of local events you want to attend on the weekend or make it a goal to run a 5K. Consider your goals to be things that ignite those emotions of excitement, adventure, and fun. This can help you overcome the dullness or overwhelm of shift work.

    7. Take a Moment to Slow Down

    Shift-work can drain you physically, which means you must listen to your body. Oftentimes, we get lost when we’re on the go. We take our meals, our coffees, and even important conversations while we’re constantly up and running. Take some time to breathe and slow down.

    8. Set Expectations With Your Employer

    It’s about communicating with your employer and setting those expectations you can realistically meet. Sometimes shift workers go the extra mile and stay behind after work, or they end up picking up extra shifts when needed.

    Realistically, are you going the extra mile, or are your employers getting too dependent? If it’s the latter, it’s time to draw some boundary lines.

    If you have a family and you need to be home at a certain time, ask your employer to honor it. If there’s a yoga class you’ve been committed to on a weekly basis that keeps you grounded and recharged, stay committed to it.

    Setting those expectations can help bring control back into your life in the long term.

    9. Create a Routine

    Establishing a set routine can alleviate unnecessary stress, even if you’re sleeping during the day or working early morning shifts. After a long day at work, the last thing you probably would want to be doing is stressing over what daily tasks need to be completed.

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    Set a designated day for laundry, grocery shopping, and other tasks that need to get done on a weekly basis.

    10. Meal Prep for the Week

    Eating healthy is one crucial factor that affects your quality of life, but taking control of what goes into your body gives you that conscious awareness of what you are really consuming.

    It’s no secret that meal prepping is no easy task, especially when shift work has you exhausted. Instead, think of the benefits it could provide – freeing up mental capacity for the week, building a healthy and accountability relationship with yourself, and saving you money[3].

    11. Do Something Creative

    Even for those who believe they don’t have a creative bone in their body, every single person in the world has a imagination unique to themselves.

    Creativity does not always have to come in the form of art, but also in the mess of baking or the rhythm when you dance.

    12. Surround Yourself With Nature

    When was the last time you stood barefoot on a damp patch of grass after the morning rain or ran your fingers through the soft grains of sand at the beach?

    When was the last time you closed your eyes and listened to the birds chirp or the leaves rustle against the wind?

    There’s another world outside of the physical world we live in when we’re at work, and surrounding yourself with nature reminds you of that.

    13. Reflect

    Although shift work can have you bouncing back and forth during odd hours of the day, there’s that opportunity to sit and reflect during these times.

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    If you work at night, you have the chance to sit and reflect when the world is sleeping, which can actually be the quietest time to clear your mind.

    14. Get Active

    Physical activity is more vital than some people give it credit. Spending a portion of your day moving your body can help get those endorphins going and have you feeling ready to conquer the day or release the tension in your body.

    15. Make Time for the People You Love

    With shift work, there may be times that you are missing out on many of life’s events that are going on in your inner circle – dinner parties, happy hours, or hiking trips.

    The positive thing about working unconventional hours is that it gives you the time to reflect on the handful of people who are the most important to you and how you want to spend your time with them.

    Maybe it’s not about going to dinner parties with your friends from high school that brings you happiness, but meeting up with your gym buddy for a quick run instead. Use your time the way you want and with the people you want to spend it with.

    Final Thoughts

    Although shift work can be emotionally and physically draining, use it as a learning opportunity to get to know yourself. When was the last time you got to dive deep to get to know the person you are and who you have become?

    Not everything has to be goal-oriented, and sometimes regaining the quality of your life means exploring the little things.

    More on Dealing With Shift Work

    Featured photo credit: Luis Melendez via unsplash.com

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    More by this author

    Akina Chargualaf

    Akina Chargualaf is an entrepreneur, writer, and the content creator of travel and personal development blog Finding Fifth.

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    Published on July 15, 2021

    Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

    Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better
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    Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

    Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

    The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

    Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

    Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

    Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

    What Are the Symptoms?

    Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

    Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

    Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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    17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

    Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

    I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

    Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

    Your Job

    1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

    Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

    For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

    2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

    Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

    3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

    Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

    To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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    4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

    Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

    Sleep Attitudes and Environment

    5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

    Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

    Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

    Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

    If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

    6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

    This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

    Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

    Personal Habits and Choices

    7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

    This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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    8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

    Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

    9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

    It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

    10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

    Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

    11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

    Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

    12. Don’t Smoke

    Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

    13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

    Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

    Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

    14. Get Regular Exercise

    According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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    This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

    Mental and Emotional

    15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

    This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

    16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

    17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

    Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

    The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

    Final Thoughts

    Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

    Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

    Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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