Submitted by Kamu Laird, M.Sc.
Shift work affects the entire family since family routines can never be fully set. Participation in outside activities such as clubs and sports becomes complicated. Shift workers usually have less time to spend with their family and friends, since they are often at work when regular social activities are scheduled and at home when others are at work. Therefore, shift workers may spend less of their time-off involved in social and recreational activities.
Fatigue may also prevent shift workers from enjoying those recreational and social activities that they are able to participate in. This may be particularly true of parents who have family duties after work. Shift workers may have family obligations that shorten their sleep time, such as caring for young children or elderly family members. Consequently, they tend to sleep poorly.
Effective Strategies for Shift Workers
- Maintain regular eating patterns as much as possible.
- Time meals carefully. Afternoon workers should have the main meal in the middle of the day instead in the middle of the work shift. Night workers should eat lightly throughout the shift and have a moderate breakfast. That way they should not get too hungry while sleeping during the day and digestive discomfort should be minimal.
- Pay careful attention to the type of food eaten. Eat crackers and fruit instead of soft drinks and candy bars during work breaks. Reduce the intake of salt, caffeine, and alcohol.
- Avoid excessive use of antacids, tranquilizers and sleeping pills. It is healthier to watch what and when you eat, and use relaxation techniques to aid sleep.
- Relax during meals and allow time for digestion.
- Take leisure seriously.
- Make time for quiet relaxation before bed to help get better sleep.
- Plan dates with your partner and times to communicate about issues of concerns (parenting, finances).
- Make sleep a priority and enlist the entire family’s cooperation in ensuring shift workers get their rest.
- Get a big calendar and use lots of lists. E-mail notes to family members.
- Call your spouse and kids on your breaks to stay in touch.
- Create rituals that bring the whole family together.