Working shifts is more harmful to your health than you think

18 January 2021
18 January 2021

Working shifts is more harmful to your health than you think

More than 4.7 million people work irregular hours according to CBS. For example in healthcare, security, transport and industry. Irregular working hours are, according to CBS, working hours that are before and after office hours. So between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. We increasingly live in a 24-hour society and due to the many working from home because of COVID-19, the work rhythm shifts from to another pattern. When you work irregular hours, it has an impact on your health. This is not immediately visible or noticeable, but it can cause complaints in the longer term. That’s because everything we do has to do with the biological rhythm of our body. We can try to control that, but we can’t change the laws of nature. Those laws apply not only to the weather, but also to our body and brain. The biological rhythm makes us tired in the evening and want to sleep and wake up in the morning. It also regulates our digestion and other bodily functions such as hormones, body temperature and, for example, the heart rhythm. Running irregular schedules will always have an effect on health and not in a beneficial way. Whatever you do to try to prevent it from damaging your body and mind, you cannot prevent it. What you can do is try to limit the damage as much as possible. And that is possible if you stick to a number of rules. If you do nothing, you will eventually experience the negative consequences of irregular shifts.

A personal experience: I checked the clock every hour during the early shift and then got up at 5:30 am. During the afternoon shift I was home at 11:30 pm, but before I slept it was 2:00 am. During the night shift I slept well in the first few years, but at one point I was fully awake at 1 p.m. Physical work was not a problem, but the moments when I had a rest I really tried to relax. Around me I saw colleagues drop out more and more. One with physical complaints, the other with mental complaints. More and more was expected of you and you were happy to go that extra mile. Until the moment you were completely exhausted. Fatigue, loss of appetite, poor sleep, weight gain and other physical problems are the first signs. Do not keep these complaints for yourself, but get help in time.

Food is also changing more and more. The offer in the supermarkets is increasing, and there are many diets that are good according to the internet. Draw a big line through the word diet. Adjusting your diet to your daily efforts will yield greater and long-lasting returns. In addition, it is much easier to maintain.

Rest in our body
Our body comes to rest in the evening, it prepares in principle to go to sleep. As a result, the food is digested less well. Moreover, you see much more often that people on shifts suffer from their stomach and / or intestines. Such as bloating, nausea, heartburn, diarrhea. People who work shifts often eat too many sweets and fatty snacks during the evening and night shift. They drink liters of coffee and / or energy drinks to stay awake. This is an extra burden for your health and the digestive system. If you eat too much and too often at night, you will become sleepy and less alert.

Fixed times
Our body has a biological clock. An example of this is the menstrual cycle. If we live, eat, sleep and exercise in a fixed rhythm, this has the best effect on our body. In shifts this is a lot more difficult than continuous shifts.
(Changing shifts: a new schedule per month with the shifts mixed together.
Continuous shifts: a fixed schedule.)

During the morning shift it is often difficult to have breakfast immediately. Still, it is good to try this. If this does not work, eat a little something before you start work (preferably at home). A wholemeal cracker with 30+ cheese or smoked meat. As a result, there is already some fuel in the tank of your body. When you have the opportunity to have breakfast at work, you should try to have breakfast at a fixed time. If this is not possible, the advice is to have breakfast at home. Make your breakfast as healthy as possible A tasty and healthier lifestyle also provides more energy. A spelled sandwich with low-fat margarine, topped with chicken fillet or a bowl of low-fat cottage cheese with a handful of unsalted and unroasted nuts. In any case, make sure that the meals are at the same times. That is also the reason why your employer gives a break at a fixed time.

The solution is actually the easiest for the afternoon shift. The breakfast is no different from a morning service breakfast where you can take a little more time. You can have dinner for lunch. A tasty rice dish, a pasta meal or just Dutch food. At work you can eat a tasty salad with lots of fresh raw vegetables during the long break. For example: tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, red beets, spinach, bell pepper, celery, kohlrabi, fennel, pieces of apple, carrot, radish and possibly supplemented with some chickpeas, lentils, avocado and a piece of meat, fish or meat substitute. A tasty fresh homemade soup is also good. Preferably unbound, so without cream or cornflour.

With the night shift you have the dip around 4 a.m. You can recognize it by nodding balls, the moment you get colder or maybe you start to sweat spontaneously. Your body is tired and would prefer to go to sleep.

If you are a late sleeper you can start with dinner. That is the food that you eat with your partner or family. If you wake up early, eat something that is easily digestible. For example, a spelled cracker with savory toppings or a little fruit. Have a small snack around 11 p.m. How about a fruit muffin or a bowl of low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese? You eat a protein-rich meal around the short break (1 a.m.). The proteins keep you nice and awake and the proteins can work on the recovery of the muscle tissue in your body. This also gives a satiated feeling and reduces the chance that you will ‘snitch’.
Around 4 a.m., the time of the dip, you eat a carbohydrate-rich meal. This creates more energy in your body with which you will manage until the end of your shift. On the way home or just before the end of the shift, you eat a small snack of about 100 kcal.

Done working? Then take care of relaxation. Now in the corona period you can exercise limited, but if you have the opportunity, do it. Walk the dog or go around the block. Fresh air works wonders. A good book or shower / bath also relaxes your body.

Coffee, tea and energy drinks
Avoid coffee as much as possible. Coffee contains caffeine. The more caffeine you drink, the more often your body asks for it. In addition, it also causes stress and a fearful feeling. This also applies to tea containing theine. Green tea, black tea, and white tea contain theine. DO NOT drink the cans of energy drinks. These are very bad for your health. Every can you drink is one too many. You will also notice that you have to drink more and more of this to get the desired effect. Drinking water is of course a requirement. Avoid alcohol!

If you eat healthy snacks, that’s fine. But eat them regularly, don’t skip them. If you skip them, your body does not get enough nutrients, resulting in energy loss.

Unhealthy choices
It should go without saying that you leave out the less good choices. These are, for example: sweets, cookies and also ordering food on the afternoon and night shift. Eat freshly prepared foods as much as possible.

Around the clock
Take your time. Do not skip meals. Avoid the (added) sugars as much as possible. Eat a varied diet. What you often read and also really works well is: Do not follow a diet and exercise and relax enough.

Tips for snacks on the night shift:

What are your experiences with irregular shifts? Do you have other solutions or tips? Share it with us via

Take a look at my Facebook, where I put daily tips, tricks and recipes that give you a helping hand. André Mostard is a sports nutrition coach and has been active in the sports world for more than 30 years. André regularly writes a piece for ODS with good practical tips to feel good! Sports nutrition coach André Mostard