Top 3 Tips for Surviving Shift Work

By: Laura Chase

Rotating shifts are an inevitable part of working in public safety. And for some people, working odd hours can feel like a bonus that allows them to sleep in, spend more time with family, and shop with fewer crowds.

But for others, not having a regular work schedule can wreak havoc on their personal lives. Besides having irregular and unhealthy sleep cycles, it’s difficult to get into a routine or maintain social bonds when most of your days off fall on weekdays, and your calendar can change at a moment’s notice.

Even if you’re lucky enough to not work in rotation, steady evenings, or worse- midnights, changing shifts can affect your health and mental well-being. That’s why it’s critical to maintain consistency wherever and whenever you can.

If you’re looking for ways to survive the dreaded swing, here are three tips to help balance your routine and make shift work, work for you.

1. Keep consistent sleeping patterns

Shift Work Sleep Disorder is a serious and frustrating reality for millions of public safety professionals. If left unchecked, it can lead to a host of health issues, including physical and cognitive impairments. And while most shift workers are at risk of developing this condition, it is, in fact, preventable and treatable.

That said, while it may seem impossible to set actual sleeping hours, there are ways to achieve a healthier balance. Even if you can’t commit to a specific sleep time every day, you can still regulate your body’s rest cycle by adopting an adjustable yet consistent pattern.

According to SleepFoundation.Org, maintaining steady intervals and gradually adjusting your sleep times to correlate with your shift can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on both your body and mind. Besides reducing your chances of accident or illness, getting enough sleep will help you stay more patient, productive, happy, and alert.

2. Maintain a balanced diet and exercise

Shift work taxes your body and can leave you feeling burned out and stressed. Aside from not getting enough rest, poor nutrition and long periods of inactivity can weaken your immune system and heighten your chances of developing neck, back, and circulatory problems.

You must take better care of yourself. That means staying hydrated, eating better, and getting enough exercise—no excuses. You have to make the time.

Start with little changes to your routine. Instead of trips to the vending machine or ordering out, why not bring healthier snacks and meals from home? Besides being more nutritional, homemade options usually taste better and are much easier on the wallet.

In the same respect, exercise routines don’t need to be elaborate or involve a gym membership. Try allocating one break a day for a short walk around the parking lot or building. If you feel ambitious, you can add longer, more versatile exercise sessions to days off.

The point is to start something. Not only will a little bit of exercise help clear your mind and re-energize your body, it will also help reduce your chances of illness or injury.

3. Schedule time with friends and family

Just like you schedule your shifts and personal appointments, you must plan ahead for time with family and friends. While it probably won’t be as satisfying as the spontaneous moments of fun, scheduling will ensure you actually see your loved ones. As in real quality time.

Once a month, commit to grabbing your datebook or opening your calendar app, and choosing a few days to reconnect. Then send email or text invites and see who responds. Once you settle on a date and time, you can move forward with deciding on specific plans.

The best part? Because your plans are in writing, they will automatically feel more important and concrete.
Of course, this technique might seem impersonal at first. And it may not work for every situation. But these days, almost everyone uses mobile devices and email. While it may take a bit of getting used to, any learning curve is well worth the return.

Flexibility is key

Wrapping up, make sure you take advantage of your personal time and vacation accruals. Likewise, remember to shop when the stores are empty and play while everyone else is at work.

Resist the urge to take on more overtime than you can handle. And if you can’t take time off, try finding a shift swap buddy who works an alternate schedule.

When it comes to shift work, the secret is to stay flexible and refuse to settle for “good enough.” You deserve better than that. And so do your family and friends. Remember, it’s possible to work a job you love and still have a normal life. It just takes a little time, practice, and perseverance.

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