Shift Work: Finding Your Work/Life Balance
Shift Work: Finding Your Work/Life Balance
As technology and society have advanced, so has its need for people to be working around the clock. Men and women who work outside of the 9-5 realm – usually in the evening or through the night – engage in shift work. Nurses, doctors, pilots, commercial drivers, factory workers, and service staff are a few examples of people who are needed 24 hours a day. Working evening hours requires these people to adapt their social schedule and biological clock to complete their jobs, which can often be a struggle. Fortunately, there are habits that can be built to help facilitate both health and happiness.
Effects of Shift work
Every person has a circadian rhythm which determines the body’s function in a day. This rhythm is based on a few factors, including daylight, and helps to direct the sleep/wake cycle which in turn influences digestion, energy output, and other bodily processes. In short, bodies naturally want to work during the day and sleep at night. For those who work evening shifts, it can be difficult to fight this inclination. Shift workers often report problems with sleep. Research has also explored if shift work can aggravate certain digestive and heart conditions. In addition, working second or third shift can make it difficult to maintain relationships. A person might be scheduled to work during important events, or need to catch up on sleep in order to get to the next shift. Missing out on social events can lead to feelings of isolation or increased conflict in relationships.
Sleep is required for physical and mental health, and it also helps to promote safety on the job. Being tired on the job leads to poor concentration which can increase the chance of errors, accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. The combination of not getting enough sleep and working during a time when the body naturally wants to rest contributes to feeling sleepy on the job. Getting enough restful sleep is one of the most common issues of a shift worker. Whether they work consistent shifts or switch between day and evening shifts (sometimes called a rotation schedule), getting on a sleep schedule can be a challenge. Since sleep is so important, there are some tips to keep in mind to help you get the sleep you need.
Develop a sleep schedule – Finding a schedule that works, then sticking with it consistently, is important. Some people find it helpful to get 3-4 hours of sleep after a shift, go about the day, and then get 4 more hours of sleep before the next shift. Others like to get it all done in one dose. Either way, most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a day to function optimally.
Have a sleep routine – Doing the same thing before going to bed can help to set you up for success. Decrease the light by getting black out curtains, avoid technology, and invest in an eye mask. Wearing earplugs can help to block out noise that can easily keep you awake, and if you have an active household, putting out a sign that notifies others that you are sleeping can also be helpful. Other than that, incorporate activities that relax you and will signal “time to sleep” to your body.
Healthy habits – Keeping a healthy diet and exercise regimen can help to facilitate your energy. Avoid eating a big meal before you go to bed, and avoid exercise within 3 hours of going to sleep. Planning 20 minutes of light exercise before work can help to energize you for your shift.
Take a break – While working, get important tasks done first, when you are most alert. After that, use your breaks wisely: alternate going for a walk with having a snack, or napping (if your work place allows these options). Drinking caffeine can help to keep you alert, but should be kept to a minimum as it can interfere with getting sleep after work.
Getting work done at your job is only part of your daily obligation. Once you are home, the number of daily tasks and chores to complete does not decrease when you are tired or unavailable. It is not uncommon to feel like all you do is work and sleep. All this, plus having an opposing schedule, adds up to shift workers finding it difficult to maintain social ties. This can add stress to an already demanding predicament. Organization and communication are the keys to helping to facilitate and foster connection.
Coordinate calendars – As soon as you get your work schedule, communicate your work hours to your partner, kids, and whoever else needs to know it. You can create a visual calendar so your kids understand when you are available or when they may need to be quiet.
Get creative – You may have to get creative with how to connect, but can consider leaving notes, filling out greeting cards, sending emails, or using technology in other ways. If you can, plan your breaks at work for times that correspond with your family’s availability, using video chat to check in during dinner or before bedtime, for example.
Prioritize and plan wisely – While it might seem tempting to skip your sleep to attend an event, this might not be the smartest choice in the long run. Prioritize and plan for the most important events, and learn to say “no” to other events. The more you communicate with your loved ones, the more you will know which events to say “yes” to and the more they can understand that you have limitations but are doing your best.
Stay organized – Create a chore list to make sure you are accomplishing what needs to get done, without letting things build up (which can lead to more stress and frustration). Delegate some chores, if needed, and make sure to say “thank you” and express appreciation for the people in your life.
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