8 best night shift health tips

Created by Deevra Norling

Last Updated: March 17, 2022

CATEGORIES: Holistic Health

Do you work in healthcare, the police, or emergency services? If you do, chances are you’ve worked the graveyard shift during your career. This article explores night shift health risks and the best night shift health tips. Read on to find out how to work night shift and stay healthy.

Globally, around 18% of people work night shifts in the USA, 11.7% in the UK, and 13.2% in the EU. These workers include taxi drivers, cleaning staff, hotel staff, 24-hour restaurants and supermarkets, and call center agents. 

You may think you’ve adjusted well to working the night shift, but are you aware of its risks to your health?


How Night Shift Work Affects Health

Shift work disrupts the body’s natural wake/sleep cycle. Working at night forces the body to remain awake when it should be asleep. Even after adjusting to your night schedule, night-time work may still adversely affect your health.  

Some of the health risks of working the night shift include: 

  • Sleep problems. With your circadian rhythm out of whack, you’re likely to suffer shift work disorder. This is characterized by insomnia when trying to sleep which leads to excessive tiredness while at work. Constant exhaustion can cause workers to make mistakes on the job that may lead to accidents and injuries.  
  • Increased risk of heart disease. A research article published by PubMed found a correlation between rotating shift work and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The same study found evidence that night shift work adversely affects metabolic health, increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes. 
  • Increased risk of cancer. Another study found that women working night shifts for 10 or more years are twice as likely to develop breast cancer than women who have not worked night shifts. 
  • Changes to the metabolism leading to obesity. Lack of sleep can interfere with the hormone leptin which helps regulate your metabolism and increase cortisol levels which can lead to excess belly weight. 
  • Gastrointestinal problems. Our bodies are designed to digest food during the day rather than at night. To make matters worse, shift workers may eat at irregular times, grab the nearest unhealthy snack and eat in a rush, increasing the risk for digestion problems, constipation, diarrhea, and stomach ulcers. 
  • Mood changes and depression. Not only can poor sleep quality cause irritability, but heading to and from work in the dark every day can lead to depression. 
  • Vitamin D deficiency. The lack of sunshine can also result in a Vitamin D deficiency. 
  • Increased risk of premature death. One study found that averaging fewer than six hours of sleep per night over the long term increases mortality risk by 13% compared to someone averaging 7-9 hours sleep.

The more unpredictable or irregular your shifts are, the more at risk you become for these health issues. Let’s now explore the best night shift health tips to minimize these risks.

health issues of night shift workers-man with head in hands

Top night shift health tips | How Can Shift Workers Stay Healthy? 

Now that you understand the link between shift work and health, what can you do to avoid the long-term effects of working night shifts? 

Here are eight things shift workers can do to stay healthy. 

1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule

Just as day workers sleep and wake at the same time every night, night shift workers should follow a strict sleep schedule.

What is the best sleep schedule for night shift workers? Maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps reset your body clock. Make sure you sleep for 7-8 hours straight rather than 2-3 hour-stretches staggered throughout the day. 

You may struggle to sleep during the day, so create a conducive environment for deep restorative sleep

  • Invest in black-out curtains to darken the room.
  • Turn off the TV and any devices. 
  • Keep the room temperature cool.
  • Use earplugs to minimize noise from inside the home or outside in the neighborhood. 
  • If you have kids, don’t allow them to disturb you during your sleep time. 

Good quality sleep is your best defense against the health risks associated with night shift work.

regular sleep schedule-lady sleeping on stomach

2. Maintain family relationships

Not only is working at night tough on the body, but it can also take a toll on family relationships. If your partner works during the day, you may hardly see each other. Try to schedule quality time with your family as often as you can when your free time overlaps with your partner’s.

3. Try to avoid rotating and long shifts

Most research into shift work and health indicates that rotating shifts and long shifts are the most detrimental to health. 

Workers who are on rotating shifts (alternating between night and day shifts) cannot settle into a consistent sleep routine. 

Nurses who work long 12-hour shifts are also at a greater risk of long-term damage to their health. They’re also more prone to making critical errors like administering drugs or operating medical equipment incorrectly.

4. Eat healthily

It’s tempting for shift workers to grab snacks from the vending machine or a nearby fast-food restaurant, but this will only contribute to health problems. 

Instead, pack a healthy meal and snacks to enjoy on breaks. Drink water to stay hydrated and avoid caffeine and sugary drinks, which may affect your sleep when you get off shift. Healthy food for night shift workers is the same as healthy food for everyone else. Plan to eat plenty of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and some meat and dairy if you choose.

healthy eating-vegetable kebabs

5. Move your body 

If you work as a night-time security officer or at an all-night convenience store, you may be seated behind a counter. Your shift may also be quiet and uneventful. 

To pass the time, you may scroll through social media or play games on your cell phone and not notice that you have not gotten up off your seat in a few hours. 

Sitting for long periods can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, weight gain and cause back and joint pain. Be conscious of this and try to get up, stretch and walk around at regular intervals. 

6. Take a nap on your break

Healthcare professionals that work shifts in hospitals may be entitled to a nap break. If you have this option, make use of it. 

A short but sound nap (15-20 minutes) can be refreshing to the body and mind. It can help boost your energy and alertness to carry you through the rest of your shift.

Try not to nap for longer than 20-30 minutes to avoid entering the deep sleep cycle, which may leave you feeling groggy when you wake up rather than refreshed. 

7. Spend some time outdoors

Some night workers spend most of their shift indoors. When you’re off shift, try to spend some time outdoors to counter the psychological effects of working the night shift. 

Take the dog for a walk, do some gardening or play outside with the kids. The fresh air and Vitamin D from the sunshine will do wonders for your physical and mental health.

health of night shift workers-spend time outdoors-group cycling in nature

8. Go for annual health checks

Prevention is better than cure. Going for regular health check-ups can identify problems early so that you can take steps to prevent them. 

Check-ups don’t only apply to physical conditions but also mental health. Like police officers, first responders, emergency room doctors, shift workers are often under tremendous stress. It can be hard to ‘switch off’ at the end of your shift. 

If you don’t manage stress effectively, it can lead to problems like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or burnout. If shift work affects your mental health, seek help from a mental health counselor. 

Night shift health tips | In summary

Due to the nature of your job, working the night shift may be unavoidable, but you can avoid the health risks associated with it with these night shift health tips. Get good sleep, take power naps, watch what you eat, exercise, spend time with your family, and don’t neglect your annual check-up.

Follow these workplace wellness tips for more ways to stay healthy at work.

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Deevra Norling

1 Comment

  1. Tayyaba

    Very informative article…thanks for sharing such valuable information.


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