Are you working in a night shift? Do you feel the need to stay awake, alert, productive, effective and healthy? It is possible, you just need to plan and prepare for it.
• Plan for 6 to 8 hours of continuous sleep. After your shift is over, head back home and get rest. Do not use your sleep time to finish tasks, errands or other chores. Wakeup 4 hours before your shift starts so that you'll be alert during the night. Plan your routine such that you follow a normal day's schedule - wake up 4 hours before you go to work, eat your first meal of the day within 1.5 hours of waking up, consume a meal or healthy snack every 3 - 4 hours and make time for 45-60 minutes of exercise. Eat your last meal of the day 2 hours before sleeping.
• Drink at least 2-3 litres of water a day - feeling sleepy on the job could also be due to mild dehydration. It's hard to focus on work and tasks when you are dehydrated.
• Eat medium sized, balanced meals at regular intervals. An example is the buffet meal served in your cafeteria - rice/chapathi + dal/gram/ channa/ rajmah/ low fat paneer/ tofu/ chicken or fish (prepared in a healthy way) + vegetable + curds / buttermilk + salad/ sprouts. If possible, try and carry brown rice or dalia from home as these are rich in fibre
• Eat healthy snacks in between like fruits, salads, sprouts, boiled or roasted corn [no butter], healthy bhel, roasted channa, whole wheat sandwiches (without mayonnaise), dry fruits and nuts. If not available at your work place, make a habit of carrying something along with you to work.
• If you do want a cup of coffee, have this during the first half of your shift. Just like a day shift, caffeine during the second half of your shift reduces your chance of sleeping when you get home.
• Ensure that a wide variety of fruits and vegetables [especially greens] are a part of your daily diet for a healthy digestive system.
• Exercise for at least 45-60 mins a day to boost energy and alertness levels. This will also help you get good, sound sleep.
• Follow sleep hygiene principles such as hanging thick and dark curtains to block out the sunlight, switching off the TV and computer at least 1 hour before bedtime, eating your last meal of the day at least 1 ½ to 2 hours before sleep, drinking a glass of warm milk to increase levels of serotonin, etc.
• Weigh yourself once a month on the same machine each time to keep track of your health. If your weight is increasing or decreasing when it shouldn't be, something is missing -either in your eating habits or exercise.
• Interrupt your sleep to eat a meal - you can eat whatever is available that's healthy when you wake up.
• Rely on unhealthy snacks like bakery products, biscuits, chaats, deep fried snacks like samosas, chips, chaat etc. These have zero nutritional value and you are eating these at the expense of something that would actually nourish your body. Also, it will lead to unhealthy weight gain.
• Binge on sweets, cakes pastries, ice creams, chocolates, candies etc. These contain excess fat and sugar and can leave you feeling drowsy after consumption. If you do want to eat something sweet have a date or 2- 3 raisins.
• Drink excess of coffee and tea or even soft drinks to stay alert on a night shift - they can leave you feeling drained at the end of your day. Drink enough water, with regular healthy snacks and get sufficient sleep- that's enough to stay healthy and productive.
• Don't use alcohol to help you sleep. It is a sleep inducer but it will disrupt your REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep which impacts how rested and functional you feel on waking.
Looking after yourself as you navigate the night shift is a serious task. You need to make fixed schedules for sleep, eating and exercising. If you find yourself unable to manage, meet a doctor at a sleep clinic who can discuss individual techniques for good health and adequate amounts of sleep keeping in mind your shift. If night shifts affect your health adversely, ask your doctor to discuss this with your employer and explain your situation so a suitable alternative can be found.