Pamela Lewis gives her tips on what mine workers can do to survive the rigors of shift work.
Midnight. At a time when it’s difficult just to stay awake, you are expected to function at a reasonable level. Unfortunately, labouring through the night can wreak havoc on your body, weakening your immune system and causing a destructive decrease in energy. It’s difficult for the body’s internal clock to adapt to shift work, and often causes insomnia and indigestion. It becomes even trickier if you have to switch between day and night shifts, as in the 12 hour shift or continental work week. So, if you find yourself working the third shift, keep reading as I will offer some healthy tips to counteract the damage it may be doing to your body, mind and spirit.
Shift Worker Sleep Disorder
Working the graveyard shift forces the body to operate counter to its circadian rhythm, the internal clock that tells us when we should be sleeping and when we should be awake.
Few people adapt easily or completely to such schedules. It’s not uncommon for these workers to suffer from shift work sleep disorder (SWSD). SWSD is characterised by insomnia and excessive sleepiness. People with the disorder are more accident prone, irritable, and less able to concentrate. Lack of sleep is also linked to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mood disorders.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified a link between working third shift and digestive disorders. Although the exact cause is not known, the CDC says it may be because the digestive system is forced to work hard in the middle of the night when the body would normally be at rest. Digestive processes naturally slow down in the evening and overnight as the body is busy repairing the body, detoxing the organs, and supporting the immune system. When this rhythm is interrupted by shift work, what you eat may be out of sync with what your body is able to process. Fats will not be cleared from the blood stream as efficiently and blood sugars will not be regulated appropriately.
Many studies have shown a link between working third shift and cardiac problems. Working third shift is stressful because many workers have trouble spending enough time with their families and coordinating other daily activities. This stress may contribute to heart disease and other cardiac problems. Unhealthy eating habits including high fat, high sugar, and high caffeine intake, along with a lack of exercise may also predispose third shift workers to heart disease.
In 2007, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, working with WHO (World Health Organization) concluded that shift work is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” based in large part on the growing association between shift working and increased incidence of breast cancer (Stevens, 2011; Straif, 2007). Exposure to artificial light late at night decreases the body’s melatonin production. Melatonin is a natural cancer-fighting hormone, so lack of it leads to a greater risk for developing the disease. The rate of breast cancer rises up to 40 per cent for women who work at night for many years and prostate cancer rises for men. This affects nearly 20 per cent of the working population in developed countries. That is a significant number of people being put at risk, and eating cancer-fighting foods during shift work, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, would be of great benefit to these workers.
“Lack of sleep is also linked to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mood disorders.”
Melatonin produces a number of health benefits in terms of your immune system. It’s a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps combat inflammation.
In addition to helping you fall asleep and bestowing a feeling of overall comfort and well being, melatonin has proven to have an impressive array of anti-cancer benefits. Melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, as well as triggering cancer cell apoptosis (self destruction).
Melatonin has a calming effect on several reproductive hormones, which may explain why it seems to protect against sex hormone- driven cancers, including ovarian, endometrial, breast, prostate and testicular cancers.
Sure, it’s easy to talk about being well rested, but when it comes down to actually doing it, it’s easier said than done. Even if you are good about laying down into bed to catch some zzz’s, your environment, from your kids bouncing around outside your door to your neighbour mowing the lawn might stand in the way. It’s often the hardest element to ‘get right’ if you are working late. Your body is ready to crash halfway through the shift, but when you return home your family is up and about. Spending quality time with them often stands in the way of enough sleep, and it’s almost impossible to choose between the two.
Often, third shift workers break up their sleep in order to spend more time with loved ones and do activities that they enjoy. Of course, this is key to a happy life and positive relationships, but it keeps your body from going through the proper sleep cycles, rotating from light to deep sleep. If you are sleeping for a few hours in the morning and then an hour or so before work, your body may not be rested enough for the next shift. Certain vitamins, minerals, homeopathic, herbal and whole food supplements may help address nutritional deficiencies, facilitate sleep and reduce your risk of developing chronic illnesses associated with working the night shift.
Here are some ideas that may help you fall asleep quickly and soundly:
- Have a sleep ritual. Go to sleep as soon as you can after work. Don’t get caught up in chores, errands, and scheduling. Save this for later when you can devote your full attention to them. Come home from work and do something relaxing, and then hit the hay. No depressing news from the TV—that stuff can wait!
- If you are exposed to a lot of sunlight right after work, your body will perk up and make sleep difficult. Don’t stay outside longer than necessary and use dark sunglasses (like blue blocker) when leaving work in the morning if it is full sunlight.
- To keep disturbing noise to a minimum, invest in a good set of comfortable ear plugs. Unplug the phone in your room and keep cell phones and other electronics on silent. Talk to your family members about taking extra care to be quiet. Try white noise like a fan in your bedroom.
- Avoid the overuse of sleep aids, recreational drugs, or alcohol. It might make you sleep faster, but you won’t sleep as soundly. Sure, they can be a temporary solution, but in the long run they could cover up a larger problem. They are not actually helping your body clock to adjust, so talk to your doctor before using these.
- Avoid caffeine and especially energy drinks! It might help you make it through your shift, but if you drink a caffeinated beverage too close to bedtime, you’ll have a terrible time trying to fall asleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible and keep it cool. Get room darkening blinds or use cardboard to block the light and only use the bedroom for sleeping—no TV or reading in bed.
- Include chamomile tea in your sleep ritual–it has mild sedative effects. Adding a small amount of glucose in the form of honey to the tea will help your body to stop producing orexin, which is a neurotransmitter that keeps us alert. There are other “sleepy” teas that have passionflower and/or valerian in them, such as Nighty Night tea, which are more potent and should not be consumed while at work!
HEALTHY EATING TIPS
Eating healthy when your timetable seems so backwards is difficult. To maintain a nourishing diet, it’s vital to adjust your meal routine around your schedule. Do not skip meals. Plan ahead to avoid pumping in empty calories from vending machines or fast food. Here are some nutritional tips:
- If possible, time your meals and activities to match your ‘day’. Start your ‘day’ with breakfast, and have lunch shortly before leaving for work. In between have light snacks of fresh fruit and vegetables, if possible, and drink plenty of water. Add lemon or fresh fruit to your water to infuse it with flavour!
- If possible, don’t eat a huge meal right at the end of your shift. It will just sit in your stomach as you try to sleep, leading to trouble digesting as well as disrupting slumber. Your body will have difficulty burning these extra calories and they can turn to fat.
- Fuel up on complex carbohydrates. These will release energy slowly over a long period of time, versus quick sugar bursts that won’t last too long.
- Protein will fuel your muscles throughout the night (0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight).
- Choose grain products that are lower in fat, sugar and salt and switch to whole grain breads and pastas. Try brown or wild rice and brown rice pasta instead of wheat.
- Incorporate a form of quality dairy into your diet each day such as greek yogurt, kefir, or cottage cheese. If you do not drink milk, try a fortified organic soy, almond, or hemp beverage instead and put into a protein smoothie.
- Have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and organic tofu often.
- Choose at least two food-guide servings of fish each week.
- If possible, include a little good fat at each meal, ie., avocado, flax seed oil, Omega 369, nuts and seeds.
- A healthy diet, with regular meals and snacks, provides steady energy throug
Supplements for Fatigue and Insomnia
- PROTEIN: Eating healthy when your timetable seems so backwards is difficult. To maintain a nourishing diet it is vital to adjust your meal routine around your schedule. Do not skip meals. Start your day with a good quality protein shake or smoothie that contains at least 20-25 grams of protein, antioxidants and amino acids. There are also ones that contain greens as well as probiotics. Protein and fibre will give you energy and keep you full, regular, and feeling human!
- VITAMIN B COMPLEX with extra vitamin B5: A natural form of B vitamin is Brewer’s Yeast which can be added to food or shakes. It has a cheesy taste to it. There is also a liquid product called Bio-Strath from Bioforce that comes from nature as well. It is best to take B vitamins upon waking due to the boost of energy they give us. Inositol 100 mg at bedtime enhances REM sleep.
- MULTIVITAMIN: A good quality multivitamin is essential as the immune system will be run down and appetite and/or type of food for fuel will not be sufficient. Liquid forms of vitamins and minerals are always better because of their absorption rate compared to tablets.
- ANTIOXIDANTS: There are many combinations of antioxidants on the market. Going to a health food store or asking a nutritionist for advice would be best as each case is unique. Combinations of ACE’s plus Zinc are a good choice, and there is a product called Emergen-C which is an effervescent dose of 1000mg and comes in a variety of flavours. Both excellent for keeping the immune system healthy.
- CALCIUM/MAGNESIUM2:1 Plus VITAMIN D3: This combination, again, is important because calcium provides the building blocks that help keep bones and teeth strong and healthy. It also supports the health of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Magnesium helps to regulate calcium transport and stimulates the secretion of calcitonin, a hormone that aids in the influx of calcium into bone.
Vitamin D3 is required to promote calcium absorption and is a natural form that supports the immune system.
The “NO-BULL” about RED BULL!
Regular high-energy drinks are essentially nothing but sugared sodas filled with caffeine and empty calories, with no real nutritional value or benefit. Chronic consumption of high-caffeine beverages can lead to dependence, tolerance, joint stiffness and soreness, organ failure, drug craving and, with abrupt cessation, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. One 8.4-oz serving of Red Bull, for instance, contains 80+ mg caffeine and 27 mg sugar—tantamount to drinking one 8-oz cup of coffee with seven teaspoons of sugar. Sugar-free, high energy drinks may contain aspartame, sucralose, or a combination of artificial sweeteners. Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar; sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and 200 times sweeter than aspartame.
One significant risk is the increased incidence of dehydration when high-energy drinks are consumed before, during, or just after strenuous exercise or activity. Heavy reliance on energy drinks not only creates an abnormally stressful burden to our body, but also turns people into aggressive, hyper, annoying jerks, not to mention the false pretence of needing less sleep.
Pressure, anxiety, and tension can result in headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, short tempers, upset stomachs, low morale, joint pain, frequent colds and illnesses, and general life dissatisfaction.
Shift workers can experience extra stress as a result of working variable hours, getting less sleep, having little access to family members and friends, which can lead to increased isolation and lack of support.
“By failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail”- Benjamin Franklin
Preparing for the night shift is essential! For those who did not choose this shift and/or are having trouble adapting, try some of the suggestions I have outlined above. If you would like more information, I have prepared a detailed booklet which includes healthy meal/snack alternatives that I can send to those who would like to print it off or download it to their computers.
“One significant risk is the increased incidence of dehydration when high-energy drinks are consumed before, during, or just after strenuous exercise or activity.”
Pamela Lewis is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Natural Nutritional Clinician and Practitioner. Learn more about Pamela at www. dynamicnutritionaladvantage.org.