Whether you're a first responder in emergency services, or a long shift worker in the grind of ANY trade or career, time is of the essence. Own your own business? Yeah, that means you are ALWAYS working and "on call." Your time is inflexible, so your healthful practices need to be.
With long days, (especially overnight or changing hours!) your day is shaken up. Mandated overtime and callouts in the night or on days off mean even less time to squeeze in your health practices. Your time is a limited resource (the MOST limited!)
Routines can be hard in these scenarios. To hack it, we can focus on prioritizing your habits and adapting the timeline. This will safeguard your health and optimize your performance at work and home alike.
Most experts recommend 7-9 hours a day. Many support longer nights when you can catch up to help restore “sleep debt." Also consider napping to help recharge on days off (20-45 minutes). Even if you can't fall asleep, there is promise in research to resting. If you have an active mind, check out Yoga Nidra.
Recognizing sleep is tough to get on shift work, here are some tips.
Super quiet and/or ambient noise (sound machine/fan)
EXTREMELY dark. IE you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
Cut down device use and screens prior to bedtime (bluelight disrupts melatonin production).
Consider blue light blocking glasses (cheap on Amazon) in evening (various tints, some are light and can be used with screens during the day, others are orange and make me tired quickly- perfect for winding down!)
Playing with diet can help sleep. Some people do well with a little carbs at night to help get them into the rest/digest state. Others do well not eating anything the last couple hours before bed. Generally big meals at day’s end cause restless sleep due to heavy load on digestion. Consider playing with this and taking notes.
Cut caffeine midday. There are fast and slow caffeine metabolizers, but caffeine has a half-life. Most experts recommend cutting it between noon and 2 pm for average day-walkers. If you work nights, adjust the time so you don't sip the black stuff toward end of your day/night.
It’s hard to get to the gym regardless of shift. Here’s some hacks to build into your day to make it seamless.
Upon waking. Every day get up, relieve yourself and drink a glass of water. (Even try some quality salt for electrolytes).
Immediately start easing into your day with light movement. Foam roll, stretch, do a few push ups. EVEN if you do NOTHING else, you did way more than your average person on an average day. I usually do bodyweight squats while the hot water kettle gets going to loosen up.
Walking. Steps can be huge. Walk during your lunch breaks. Quit the elevator, take the stairs. Park farther from the target (Tactical AF).
Stick a weight or band by your desk or work station. Make a rule where every time you leave the room, you do 5-10 reps of something. Maybe Mondays it's always kettlebell squats. Maybe Tuesday means rows. Maybe Wednesdays are swinging days. You get the drift.
You don’t have to huff/puff/grind/sweat to be effective. You can go slow and controlled, work on nasal breathing and work muscles, rev up your metabolism. Every bit truly helps. Grease that groove!
This will also improve your inevitably hunching posture at a desk or in a car all day/night.
Garbage in, garbage out. What you eat LITERALLY becomes the cells of your body. It also feeds your gut microbiome (eating processed sugar makes you want... wait for it... more processed sugar!) Cue crazing cravings! (How's that for alliteration, my dear high school English teachers?)
Eating low quality, processed food when you are busy, not working out, not sleeping will make you feel worse and perform worse. Know your go-tos.
Meal prep. Days off, cook up a bunch of lean meats, healthy starch (roots or rice), veggies if you’re into them. Fridge half, freeze half so you are good for the week.
Keep staples in your bag/at sub/in locker. How bout a whole jug of protein powder. Then all you need is some fruit or nuts or avocado from the grocery store (depending on preference and dietary strategy).
Lower sugar-protein bars, some nuts, etc. (Read those labels!)
Canned/pouch chicken or tuna (beware of mercury).
People complain about what restaurants are open late. If you want healthy options, they exist. Just about every city has a grocery store that is open 24/7.
Greek yogurt (no added sugar)
Bread/stuff for sandwiches
Chicken/turkey burgers/burger patties for the grill at work if you have access? Why not??
If you go for the taquitos that have been on the metal rollers for 3.5 days, that’s cool. You do you. Just recognize that’s your choice 100%. There are options, there are opportunities, and we can do it together.
Sleep and recovery first, then movement coupled with sound nutrition. These will all combine into the foundation of a solid stress management protocol. By focusing on these pillars, and adjusting the when and how you workout or meal prep, you can manage the impacts of unideal circumstances with decent substitutions.
And when you have the time to focus back in, regroup and set yourself up for success!
Questions? You know where to find me. Stay healthy and stay gritty!