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A Shift Worker’s Guide to Navigating Their Health and Wellness

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Alright, where are all my shift workers at??

I’m working with a few healthcare/shift workers right now and I just wanted to start out by first and foremost saying from the bottom of my heart


Throughout the pandemic, healthcare workers have been working their butts off and putting their lives into overdrive to help anyone and everyone.

Your work doesn’t go unnoticed and I thank you for making the sacrifices you make on a daily basis for the betterment and well-being of our country.

You are all incredible.

Now, part of the reason why I loveeee working with healthcare workers and shift workers is because they are so self-less that they oftentimes forget to take care of themselves.

I love to pour into them and show up for them as their coach, so they can learn how to fill their own cup and show up for themselves on a day-to-day basis.

Part of how we do that at Clar-e-ty is educating these clients on how to navigate their nutrition and wellness around their sometimes hectic schedule and lifestyle so they can learn to be the best versions of themselves they can be.

So if you’re a healthcare worker, firefighter, EMT, industrial worker, or anyone else who does shift work with a hectic schedule and has no clue how to work your nutrition, health, and wellness around your busy lifestyle, today’s blog is for you! I’m going to be discussing some of the strategies and tips my shift working clients have found most helpful and been the most successful with.

Alright let’s get goin’ ☺

Increasing sleep quality.

The biggest biofeedback marker for shift workers to navigate is going to be sleep.

Working a night shift is going to throw off shift worker’s natural body clocks, also called your circadian rhythm. This internal body clock is responsible for regulating when our bodies are hungry, when to digest food, and when it’s time to go to sleep/wake up in the morning.

So for someone who works a typically 9-5 shift during the day, your cortisol (stress hormone) increases in the morning when the sun comes up and it’s time to wake up, you might eat breakfast, go to work, eat lunch, workout, go home and eat dinner, and get ready for bed as it starts to get dark outside and melatonin begins to rise.

However, shift work can disrupt our bodies natural circadian rhythm cycle, while causing an increase in cortisol when it’s time to wind down for sleep in the morning, creating fatigue, and changes in appetite and digestion.

SO creating the most optimal sleep environment is going to be crucial for shift workers as they navigate their health and wellness to ensure they’re getting the highest quality sleep possible.

We can attempt to create an optimal sleep environment a few ways, however, note different strategies work well for different people. So take the tools you want that work, and leave the ones that don’t!

First, black out curtains. Black out curtains will help keep the room cool and dark which will hopefully trick the body into producing melatonin instead of cortisol by making your mind think it’s night time instead of day time.

If you can handle sleeping with an eye mask and eat plugs, they work well for increasing sleep quality during the day. The eye mask will block out any incoming light and the ear plugs will block out sounds any of your neighbors might be making as they go about their day that might disturb your rest. If ear plugs are too much, sound machines that produce soothing sounds like waves crashing on the beach, light rain, etc., are also an option to block out disturbances!

Making sure you eat a balanced meal at least two hours before bed, especially with carbohydrates, is going to help promote sleep quality by brining melatonin up and blunting cortisol. This is also going to help ensure you’re not waking up in the middle of the night hungry if you didn’t eat a meal before bed.

Next, keeping the room as cool as possible. Anything below 70 degrees F is going to be the most optimal for quality sleep.

Lastly, having a pre-sleep ritual. Try to limit blue-light by not scrolling through your phone or watching TV in bed. Blue light is going to increase cortisol levels and make it harder to fall asleep. If you can, read a book, do a “brain dump” on paper, journal, mediate, just something without a screen, or invest in blue light blocking glasses.

Setting yourself up for success ON work days with your nutrition.

So this can look pretty different depending on the day, but preparing and planning ahead is going to be key for shift workers.

One because, people in hospitals LOVE to bring health care workers treats, or the staff will place an order for pizza, or doughnuts, or some kind of not as nutrient-dense food. It can be hard to resist the temptation to grab the doughnut, the cookies, the pizza, if you realize you’ve been at work 5 hours and haven’t had anything to eat!

This is where planning ahead and bringing your own meals and snacks is going to be a super useful tool. If you don’t have a microwave at work, you could bring cold meals such as Greek yogurt with protein powder, fruit, granola, almond butter, etc., or a big ole’ salad with all the veggies, quinoa or sweet potatoes, some kind of protein (whether that be chicken, salmon, tilapia), avocado, and your dressing of choice.

And then bringing any kind of snacks you like! Protein bars, pieces of fruit, pre-cut veggies and humus, or whatever floats your boat! Just some more nutrient-dense snack options that are going to keep you feeling satisfied and fuel you while you’re at work.

With that being said, given the certain circumstances during the COVID-19 Pandemic, some of my clients don’t have time to actually sit down and eat during their 12 hour shift, or don’t feel comfortable taking off their gear to do so. And it’s totally valid to feel this way!

This is where setting yourself up for success on work days might even look something like eating a bigger breakfast before going into work if you know you won’t be able to eat during your shift.

A go-to that I always recommend to clients is overnight oats. You can definitely load up some calories on the front end of the workday by having the oats, protein powder, honey/maple syrup, almond butter, sliced almonds/nuts, granola, etc. OR even drinking a loaded super smoothie with fruit, protein powder, almond butter, oats, honey, yogurt, greens, etc. on the way to work are going to be easy ways to get in a higher-calorie more nutrient-dense meal prior to going into work.

The biggest thing is going to be emphasizing having a healthy fat in your pre-work meal as this is going to slowww down the digestion of that meal and keep you feeling full and fueled for longer if you know you won’t get a chance to eat at work.

Then having a snack, or small meal in the car ready for you to eat whenever you get off, that way you’re not starving by the time you get home for dinner. In doing so, you will be less likely to each for the less nutrient-dense, convenient options first (cookies, chips, ice cream, etc.).

Setting yourself up for success on your OFF days with your nutrition.

Work days will always have more structure than days off, no matter if you shift work, or have a typical 9-5 Monday-Friday job.

With that being said, attempting to keep as much of a routine as possible with your nutrition on your days off is going to help set yourself up for success on your off days.

Some of my shift worker/health care worker clients find it more helpful to pre-log their intake the day before their off days, so that they have everything laid out and a tentative schedule to follow even though they aren’t working.

This also makes them aware of what their intake is going to be for that day, so if they want to have a treat, they can plan ahead, but also ensures they aren’t mindlessly wondering to the fridge/pantry trying to find something to eat to then only reach for the cookies, or the chips because it’s the easiest thing to grab in the moment.

Making the time to go to the grocery store on your off days is also going to be key in setting yourself up for success as well. You can purchase easy meals and snacks, like pre-cut veggies, fruit pack squeezes, pre-cooked meats, pre-made salads (with the option to add protein and carbs), or buy foods to meal-prep and cook in bulk on your days off to have either left-overs or meals ready to go to work.

Stress management

Lack of sleep is going to lead to hunger, cravings, and stress at times. In order to combat this stress the best you can, find ways that work for you to de-stress.

This is going to look different for everybody, but make a list of things you enjoy on your off-days to de-stress and a list of things you can do when you get home from work to de-stress and wind down.

Your list can be as long or as short as you want and the things on your list can take as little as 5 minutes, or as long as 2 hours, but finding balance and ways to manage your stress as a shift worker will be a crucial part in navigating your physical and mental health.

Some of the things on your list might include spending time with friends and family, walking, listening to a podcast, calling a friend, playing with your pet, reading, going to the gym, going on a bike ride, whatever you NEED for YOU.

AND it’s okay if what you need looks different every day.

As self-less as all you healthcare works, first responders, firefighters are, you have to make the time for YOU sometimes.

Setting different expectations for yourself on work days and off days

Giving yourself grace on days that you don’t hit your macros perfect, or you don’t have time to eat at work, or you do eat the doughnut at work is going to be a big deal in finding balance.

If you can set different goals for yourself on off days and work days, you might be less stressed going into work about nutrition, sleep, and health in general therefore, making it easier to focus on your job!

For instance, eating the food you bring to work instead of ordering food and eating a bigger meal before work might be the only two goals you need to set for yourself on work days.

Whereas you can set more specific goals as far as hitting macro and micronutrient targets on your days off because you have more time and energy to put into it.

The expectations you set for yourself on work days and off days might look VERY different and THAT’S OKAY.

It’s important to always be kind to yourself, even if you feel like you messed up or failed because in the grand scheme of things you didn’t fail. You didn’t mess up. Consistency is key and just moving on and getting back on track is going to be the best thing you can do for yourself in that moment because no one is perfect <3.

As health-care workers, firefighters, EMTs, industrial workers, or anyone else who does shift work, you already have a TON on your plate. So navigating your health and nutrition shouldn’t be an added stressor for you. If anything, it should make your life so much better and be a way that you can fill up your own cup!

So again, to all the healthcare workers, firefights, EMTs, and everyone else who shift works out there THANK YOU.

The Clar-e-ty Team appreciates you and wants to help you if you struggle with knowing how to navigate health, nutrition, wellness, or just need help learning how to show up for yourself.

Apply here to work with a Clar-e-ty Coach today and let us help you fill up your own cup!


Resources and Coaching:

Online Coaching here.

[Free] Nutrition Guide here.

Recipe & Macro Guide here.

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