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How to Stay Healthy While Doing Shift Work

by Joe Fleming
7 minutes read

Are you one of the nearly 15 million Americans who works an irregular schedule?

Often referred to as “shift work,” an irregular schedule is essentially any schedule that doesn’t fit the standard 9-5 mold. If you work overnight shifts, rotating shifts, or evening shifts, you’re technically doing shift work.

Depending on your career, shift work may be an unavoidable part of your job. The problem with this type of work, though, is that it can wreak havoc on your health if you’re not careful.

Read on to learn more about the potential health risks associated with shift work and get some great tips that will help you maintain your health while doing shift work.

Shift Work Health Risks


In the short term, shift work can bring about the following health issues:

  • Changes in appetite

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Difficulty getting a restful night’s sleep

  • Weight gain

  • Weight loss

  • Digestion issues (diarrhea, gas, constipation, heartburn, etc.)

In the long-term, the effects of shift work are more problematic. Shift work has been linked to a lot of serious illnesses, including the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Diabetes

  • Obesity

  • Depression

  • Ulcers

  • Fertility issues

  • Cancer

After hearing about these potential consequences of shift work, you might be feeling a bit panicked. Are you supposed to just quit your job? Not necessarily.

The good news is that, by taking some preventative steps and making your health a priority, you can mitigate many of the negative effects that can come along with shift work.

Staying Healthy While Doing Shift Work

Some steps you can take to minimize the health risks of shift work include:

Bring Healthy Food to Work with You


In most workplaces, access to healthy food is limited. Instead of resigning yourself to the calorie- and sugar-laden food in the breakroom or the fast food restaurants nearby, take your nutrition into your own hands and pack your own healthy meals or snacks.

Pack foods that are rich in protein and healthy fat — beef jerky, nuts, olives, and nut butter are all good option. These foods are easy to pack and will stay good for a while. They’ll help you stay satiated longer than carb-rich foods like cookies, chips, or crackers.

Eat Your Main Meal Before Work

It can also be helpful to eat your primary meal before leaving for work. That will help you stay full and will make it easier for you to resist the urge to snack or give in to temptation throughout your shift.

Make Your Workspace More Ergonomic


You can also minimize the negative effects of shift work by making your workspace more ergonomically friendly.

If you sit at a desk or cubicle, consider swapping out your desk chair for a stability ball or standing desk.

If you’re on your feet during your shift, invest in some gel insoles to avoid foot pain. Simple changes like this can make a big difference to your overall health and comfort while you’re at work.

Reduce Caffeine Consumption

This is often the hardest one for shift workers. After all, how are you supposed to stay energized at work without the help of caffeine?

Some caffeine is fine. But, if you’re consuming more than 400 milligrams per day, or if you’re drinking coffee or tea close to your bedtime, you could be offsetting your circadian rhythm and making it harder to fall asleep (and get good quality sleep). Cut off caffeine 4-6 hours before you go to bed so you’ll be able to fall asleep more easily.

Make Your Breaks Active


It’s tempting to flop down during your breaks and relax. But, this could actually cause you to feel more tired. If you can, make your breaks more active. Go for a short walk or do some stretching. You’ll feel more energized, and you’ll get a nice mood boost from the endorphins exercise provides.

Eat Sitting Down

If you are eating a meal or snack at work, make an effort to eat your meals sitting down in a relatively relaxed environment. Limit your screen exposure while you eat, too.

Eating while you’re walking or standing up, or while you’re on social media, can put your body into a sympathetic state. This makes it harder for you to digest your food and can increase your risk of experiencing poor digestion.

Workout at Home

Finding time to exercise when you have an irregular work schedule can be tricky.

One way to make sure you’re exercising regularly (which can help you manage your weight and decrease your risk of several chronic diseases) is to invest in basic gym equipment for your home.

You’ll be able to exercise on your own time and won’t have to worry about working around a gym’s hours. You’ll also get to save money on a gym membership!

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