One of the most challenging aspects of working in the care industry is negotiating long shift patterns.
The definition of shift work is defined as a job that starts before 8am or finishes after 6pm. It’s also associated with work hours that break a person’s normal sleep pattern and exceed regular 7.5-8 hour shifts.
Some people refer to early morning stints as a ‘graveyard shift’, highlighting just how tricky it is to complete.
With many jobs, it’s easy to get into a regular pattern of eating and sleep. But working obscure hours can have a detrimental effect on peoples’ diets, well-being, mood and decision making.
In fact, the NHS revealed that shift workers are more likely to report poor health.
Yet despite this factor, they’re required to keep their physical and mental health in check, otherwise, it could impact the way they complete their job on a daily basis.
The frustrating part is that shift work is practically unavoidable for professional care workers.
That’s why we’ve come up with some top tips on how to handle long shift patterns and ensure you continue working to the best of your ability.
Make sure you get enough sleep
It’s an obvious point, but you’ll be surprised by how many care workers neglect their forty winks when they’re on long shift patterns.
If you’ve been awake for over 16 hours, research suggests that your body starts to act in a similar fashion to that of someone who is drunk.
We’ve all seen the devastating effects of driving under the influence, so to work with patients with your body feeling the same way could have similar life-altering consequences.
Shift work requires you to work at times when your mind and body wants to rest, so it’s all about breaking the habit and finding other things to focus on.
The average shift worker loses 1-1.5 hours of sleep during every day they’re working long shift patterns. So it’s hardly surprising when it starts to catch up with you later in the week.
To get better sleep during lighter hours, buy yourself an eye mask and ask your manager or employer to give you at least two days off in a row to enable you to catch up on sleep.
Similarly, don’t be afraid to use any longer breaks to take a quick nap. According to research, those who take a nap show greater productivity in their work afterwards.
Eat the right things at the right time
Making sure your body gets the right nutrients to function is very important.
An article by the Daily Nurse recommends snacks and foods which contain lots of protein like:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Greek yoghurt
- Tuna and crackers
- String cheese
Just try to avoid these towards the final hour or two of your shift, as you don’t want to have bundles of energy if you’re planning on hitting the hay straight after work.
It’s also worth noting that these foods and snacks are just suggestions and won’t necessarily work for everyone. Therefore, it’s always useful to keep a food diary and test certain meals to see how your body responds.
Once you have this information, you can start to form a correlation and establish what’s best for your body.
Do plenty of exercise
Making sure your body is fit and healthy can make a major difference in the way you operate during long shift patterns.
For instance, if you are unfit and lazy, you’ll probably find it harder to stay on the move all night and morning.
It also helps you produce good endorphins, which make you feel mentally happier and positive throughout.
In terms of timing, exercise has different effects on everyone. So if you feel exhausted after completing it, try to avoid it just before work.
On the other hand, some people find that it energises them and helps to wake them up. Find out what works for you and get active!
Listen to the radio
Having your favourite radio presenter talking and playing upbeat music can really give you a boost when fatigue starts to kick in.
You may even get a few of your patients dancing if you’re lucky too!
Suddenly, you’ll start to ignore the clock a bit more and focus on the music instead. It can also allow your mind to split the shift up, based around when a radio presenter starts and ends their stints.
So there you have it. Hopefully, this will give you the tools to approach shift work a little bit differently from now on.
The main thing to remember is to:
- Get plenty of rest beforehand.
- Focus on eating the right foods to help give you energy.
- Stay active outside of work hours.
- Break your shift up with naps and your favourite radio station.
If you implement these basic principles and a few of our other top tips into your lifestyle, you may start to find your long shift patterns a tiny bit more manageable.
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