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Self-Care for Shift Workers

Need ideas on how to prioritize your well-being while working night shift? We’ve got ’em!

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Shift work is demanding. It can be tough to put our best foot forward all day—especially when you haven’t slept all night. But if you’re going to thrive, you’ll need to take care of your most important asset—YOU! 

Self-care is the practice of taking care of your own needs so you can stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well. For it to work, it needs to go beyond bubble baths and spa days (although those are nice too!). Here’s everything I learned about self-care while working rotating shifts. Take what works for you and incorporate it into your routine.

Get plenty of Zzz’s

The most important form of self-care for shift workers is adequate sleep. A consistent sleep schedule is critical to your success and well-being. If you have an inconsistent sleep schedule due to your late night shifts, plan ahead by thinking about strategies that will help ensure good quality sleep during the days off. 

Start by setting up an environment in your bedroom that is conducive to sleep, like using blackout curtains or earplugs (these are my absolute favourite ones!). Allow yourself plenty of time before bed for activities like reading or journaling to wind down before going to sleep. 

Find your stress busters

If you’re like me, you may default to scrolling on your phone when stressed. But here’s the thing—it rarely leaves me feeling refreshed. Over the years, I’ve found specific activities that I find both calming and re-energizing. 

Cherish your time off

Take advantage of having fixed days off by setting aside designated “me” times to do things that fill your cup. Make sure your social calendar reflects activities that bring joy into your life instead of draining ones. You might:

  • Spend time with nieces, nephews, or other kids in your life
  • Volunteer with animals at a shelter
  • Meet friends for dinner at a new restaurant
  • Take in a live theatre production 
  • Take a painting workshop or cooking class

Recharge with food and movement

Eat well. Nourish your body for good energy. Meal prep, batch cooking, and meal kits can all be super helpful in pulling together quick, delicious meals to keep you fuelled. Prepare for your shift the same way you would prepare a little kid’s lunch by filling your bag with a mix of yummy proteins, carbs, veggies, drinks, and a treat (or two).

Hydrate often. Keep a bottle nearby filled with an electrolyte drink or a glass of water and try sipping from it regularly throughout your shift. Invest in a reusable water bottle and make sure it’s full before going to work.

Keep moving. Regular, enjoyable movement can help minimize the negative health impacts associated with shift work. It can help us stay alert on the job and sleep better when we get home. If you’re new to working nights or struggling to balance your obligations, then you may need to prioritize sleep before incorporating more movement into your schedule. Moderation is key. Play within your body’s limits. 

Take your breaks 

It’s common for frontline workers not to get all their breaks. Unfair but true. But whenever it’s in your power, avoid the temptation to work straight through a meal or break. Ideally, take all your breaks, including your entire lunch. 

Personally, I found that an important part of self-care was taking these breaks outside of my work area (which, yes, included the staff break room). Whenever possible, I got outdoors on my breaks or sat in the cafeteria with a set of headphones and a good book. Self-care for me meant creating boundaries around a stressful work environment. 

Stay connected 

Self-care includes connection. Night shift workers can experience bouts of feeling out of the loop or isolated from family and friends. 

Set aside the time. Dedicate at least an hour per week for uninterrupted face-to-face communication with someone close whether through Skype calls, phone calls, or visits. Regular check-ins help to dissolve feelings of isolation from being away from loved ones due to long working hours and night shifts. 

Meet up online. This is one of my personal fav ways to stay in touch with friends. Fire up a video call; make cocktails, mocktails, or a pot of tea; and get caught up on all the hot gossip.

Connect with coworkers. Seek out positive and upbeat coworkers to connect with. Take some moments throughout the workday to chat about anything other than work. 

Find some peeps with similar working hours. Look to meet people in your same industry or other industries with unusual working hours. They might have a similar schedule to you, and even if not, they’ll certainly understand the challenges of having a job with nontraditional hours. Chances are that they’ll be game for pre-work gym sessions, post-work breakfast meetups, or Netflix marathons on turnaround days.

Seek professional help when needed

Sometimes DIY self-care isn’t enough. If you’re regularly struggling to keep your eyes open, dreading your next shift, or dealing with difficult feelings, reach out to a counsellor or medical provider for help. You don’t need to feel overwhelmed permanently. There are many professionals who specialize in helping clients navigate through hard times and establish a stronger sense of well-being.

 

Self-care is an ongoing process. By intentionally building good self-care habits you become more resilient to withstand the difficulties of a demanding night shift schedule. It might take some time to figure out what works for you—but it’s worth the effort!

Last updated: 2024-03-09

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Lauren McGill

I work at the intersection of healthcare and storytelling. As a medical writer, I help healthcare experts publish content so they stand out as thought leaders.

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