As a health care professional, you already know the importance of good nutrition, exercise and doing your best to get quality sleep. These factors become more challenging when facing the negative impacts of shiftwork, which include a higher risk of obesity, cardiovascular and metabolic disease — all of which affect mental health.
Caring for the health of others requires you to be healthy also. Build your resilience and wellness using resources and strategies that are specific to the challenges of a high-stress profession that can include the added mental and physical stress of working varying shifts.
- Plan a meal schedule that is consistent with your shift and sleep schedule, including focused meals when you wake up.
- Be mindful of how your body responds to food and circadian rhythm, particularly on night shifts.
- Pack healthy meals and snacks with sources of protein, fiber, fruits and vegetables. Share meal strategies with peers.
- Organize your nutritional intake and keep track of your physical activity to pinpoint areas of need — and to celebrate successes.
- The American Council on Exercise (ACE) offers a free exercise library, with a variety of options to choose from, including exercises for specific areas or total-body movement.
- The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) also provides a free exercise library with a wide variety of activity options.
- Fitness Blender contains hundreds of free online workouts that cover many different types of exercise.
- There are countless free fitness apps for targeting your goals, as well as your motivation.
- If you are tight on time, try a brief, targeted workout.
- Work out anytime and anywhere with a fitness app.
- Get out in nature while you get some exercise.
Even with shiftwork, improving sleep is possible. Exercise, be strategic with caffeine, avoid alcohol and do your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Here are a few other sleep resources to explore.
Remember to start with one or two changes at a time. Set small goals that you can achieve in a realistic timeframe, and make sure the goals are meaningful to you. If you encounter setbacks, it can be helpful to remember your “why” for setting the goal. Consider seeking support from a professional (such as a nutritionist, certified personal trainer or sleep specialist) if you are struggling.
Alcohol and Substance Use Resources
Alcohol and other substances are often used to self-medicate and ease the effects of stress and trauma. In many cases, they’re used to help fall asleep when shiftwork has made adequate rest difficult. This is a form of negative coping that can lead to patterns of use, dependency and abuse. Substance abuse can result in harmful mental, physical and professional outcomes.
While not everyone will develop a substance use disorder, the risks outweigh the benefits. For example, alcohol may seem to promote sleep, but it actually prevents the brain from completing full sleep cycles, leading to less rest and fewer hours of physical restoration.
If you or someone you care about is struggling, the resources below provide information about substance use disorder and how to get help.
- Not sure if you have a substance use problem? You can use this information from the CDC to learn the difference between moderate and excessive drinking.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers services and resources for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. You can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free, confidential, 24-hour treatment referral and information services. You can also use SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to search for a substance use treatment provider in your area.
- American Addiction Centers offers information about addiction and substance use programs specifically for healthcare professionals. Call 866-685-9481, or access free, 24 hour text support.
It can be difficult to break the cycle of substance use and addiction, but recovery is possible.