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Nature: An Essential Part of Your Night Shift Routine

The age-old advice to spend time outside every day doesn’t just apply to kids. Time in nature is also important for adults—especially night-shift workers. Nature has been shown to have beneficial effects on sleep quality, mental health, cognitive function, and overall well-being—all things that are essential to a good night shift routine.

Unfortunately, many night shifters do not have the energy between shifts to do anything other than rest, much less get outside. While you no doubt deserve—and need—lots of time to rest, getting out in nature can be part of the solution to shift work fatigue. Let’s dig into how sunlight, green space, and blue space can help with your night shift routine and explore some ideas on how to spend more time outside.

 

Sunlight

Humans are a lot like plants. To thrive we need proper nutrition and—you guessed it—sunlight. Sunlight can play a major role in influencing your circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. This means that spending time in the sun at the right time can make it easier for you to adjust to your night shift schedule. 

Sunlight can directly benefit night shift workers in many other ways—one study of shift workers showed that spending time in natural light before heading to work can improve mood, work performance, fatigue, and sleep quality. Many other studies also tie sunlight to improved sleep quality—one small study even found that exercising in sunlight had a greater effect on sleep quality than exercising indoors.

The sun also has an incredible ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient to build and maintain healthy bones. Exposure to the sun is a great way to boost your levels of vitamin D, so it’s important to prioritize it in your routine. If you’re planning to soak up some sun, just remember to apply lots of SPF to protect your skin.

 

How to soak up more sunshine

Working a night shift schedule doesn’t mean you never get to see the sun—it just means you need to be a little more strategic with when and how you do it. Get some sunlight in during the afternoon and evening before you head to work to help reprogram your internal clock. On your days off, take full advantage of any opportunities you have to soak up some vitamin D. In warmer weather you could head out for a bike ride or a picnic in the park. In colder months you could try snowshoeing or ice skating. Even if it’s just a quick walk around your block, your body will thank you.

 

Green Space

Have you heard of the Japanese art of forest bathing? It’s a practice that involves connecting with nature through all of your senses. It may sound intense, but forest bathing can be as simple as taking a walk in any natural environment and intentionally slowing down. This technique has been shown to lower the stress hormone cortisol and have positive effects on overall mental health.

Green space exposure has also been shown to improve sleep quality, with studies showing that simply having access to neighbourhood green space can improve sleep duration. An Australian study showed that spending as little as 30 minutes a week in green space can reduce symptoms of depression. More sleep, less stress, and better mental health? Sign us up!

 

How to access more green space

If you want to give forest bathing a try, all you have to do is get out in nature, consciously connect with your surroundings, take note of the trees, and breathe deeply. If forest therapy isn’t your thing, that’s okay. There are countless benefits to simply spending time in green space, whether that’s in a botanical garden, at a campground, or any other place you may find. Even if you live in a city, there are many ways to spend time in green space during your week. Try meeting up with a friend at a local park, heading out on a trail walk, or just sitting in your backyard after a shift and taking time to notice the nature around you.

 

For days when you can’t get outside

If you live in a city with limited green space or you’re having an extra busy week and can’t find the time to get outside, you can still benefit from simply listening to nature sounds. 

A recent article from The Washington Post reported that “listening to recordings of [bird] songs, even through headphones, can alleviate negative emotions.” 

There are many online resources you can use to simulate nature using sound in the comfort of your own home, but our favourite is tree.fm

 

Blue Space

Nothing makes me happier and more relaxed than grabbing my paddle board, heading out on the water, and being surrounded by endless blue. It turns out that it’s not just me—spending time in blue spaces has been shown to lower rates of stress and anxiety and improve overall mental health.

Research has even shown that just the sound of water can be enough to reduce levels of stress. No wonder so many white noise machines feature ocean sounds.

One of the largest studies conducted on the effects of blue space followed 20,000 people who were asked to record their feelings at random times of the day. The study found that people were by far the happiest when they were in blue spaces. Aside from mental health benefits, blue spaces can also have a positive effect on your physical health—research shows that just living near blue space is associated with significantly higher physical activity levels.

 

How to spend more time in blue space

There are endless water activities you can incorporate into your routine—swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, canoeing, fishing, water skiing, or relaxing on a float. Even if you don’t like being in the water, you can still benefit just from being near it. Try taking a walk along the beach, river, or any water you have access to. If you’re not up for a walk, grab a book and a lawn chair and chill out for an hour or two next to the water.

 

Time in nature can improve your sleep, stress, mental and physical health, and overall well-being while working the night shift. Combine sunlight with green space or blue space, or better yet all three, and now you’re really talking. Why not try to fit a little extra time outside into your routine this week and see if it makes a difference in how you feel? You might discover your new secret weapon to manage stress, feel restored, and slay the night shift.

Last updated: 2024-03-16

Sierra Jensen

Sierra Jensen

I'm a freelance writer who's passionate about matcha lattes and meaningful content. You'll find my work in regional magazines, healthcare websites, and lifestyle blogs.

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