Rotational shiftwork simply means that rather than having set work hours, your schedule changes from day to day, including both daytime and overnight shifts. Despite the word “rotational,” you may not rotate through specific shifts throughout the week, but instead, work a haphazard collection of hours. If you’re new to this type of work, you may be exhausted and wonder if you’ll ever adapt. Here is what you need to know.
Problems with Rotational Shiftwork
The human body runs on roughly 24-hour cycles known as circadian rhythms. When you work consistent hours, even if they are overnight, your body will gradually adapt to its new schedule. But shiftwork disrupts your circadian rhythms, preventing your body from settling into a routine. Potential complications include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as indigestion, stomachaches, and heartburn
- Increased stress on the cardiovascular system
- Disruptions to family time and difficulty achieving work-life balance
- Difficulty managing chronic illnesses and medication schedules
Tips for Successfully Adjusting to Rotational Shiftwork
Regulate your eating patterns as much as possible despite your changing shifts. For example, try to eat your main meal in the middle of the day or early in the evening, regardless of which shift you’re working.
Keep track of your diet. Rotating shifts make it easy to reach for junk food and coffee or soda, but maintaining a healthy balance, including fruits and vegetables, will help keep your body on track. Avoid heavy, greasy meals during the night and right before sleep, and be careful not to consume too much caffeine within the 2-4 hours before going to bed. Eat slowly and give yourself time to digest, especially if you’re eating at a time that is unusual for your body.
Use heavy blinds or blackout curtains to block light during daytime sleeping. Turn off your phone and run the air conditioner or a white noise machine. Experiment with different sleep patterns for various shifts to see what works for you. For example, you might want to sleep 6-8 hours right before your next shift (mirroring the pattern of a typical workday), or you might find it easier to sleep as soon as you get home from work.
Let your family know when you plan to sleep and ask them not to disturb you. Use relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep. If you can’t sleep after an hour in bed, get up and do something quiet until you feel sleepy. Leave time in your schedule for naps, especially when you are newly adapting to rotational shiftwork.
Make the most of your leisure time. Whether you spend time with loved ones, hike in the woods, or play your favorite sport, taking your leisure time seriously will help your body and mind survive and even thrive.
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