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Feature Article Health Tips for the Night Shift

Firefighters, police officers and nurses are among those who often work night shifts, providing vital services that cannot pause when the sun goes down. While night shifts often offer bonus pay or help one avoid daycare costs by working an opposite shift of a spouse, it can also present challenges to your health.

Common health side effects of shift work include fatigue, insomnia, stomach problems, ulcers and depression. Lesser known, but more serious side effects include cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. If not taken seriously, the side effects of shift work can be disastrous for your health.

Brenda Bye, DO, chief resident of psychiatry at Samaritan Health Services, has worked her share of night shifts and offers these tips to stay healthy:

• Establish a regular sleep schedule as much as possible. Even if your schedule is different from everyone else’s, it should be consistent for you, even on days off.

• Be sure to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep a day.

• Invest in blackout shades to make the bedroom very dark for daytime sleeping.

• Avoid the use caffeine or other stimulants to make it through the night if you plan to sleep just after your shift.

• Maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Plan meals ahead. Food easily available late at night is generally not very nutritious.

• If it’s light outside, wear sunglasses on the way home to help prepare your body for sleep later.

• After arriving home, avoid additional stimuli such as TV, computers, cell phones and alcohol.

“Friends and family can help by building in a little bit of cushion for shift workers. Remember to stay quiet at home during the day. And, even on days off, a person will still need to sleep,” said Bye.

If you’re regularly following these tips and still not getting great sleep, it’s time to talk to your primary care provider for additional help. Your well-being depends on it.