March is Nutrition Awareness Month (YAY!) which means I want each of you to go to the grocery store and buy a head of broccoli and a bag of spinach right now! (as I sneakily pop another M&M into my mouth)
All joking aside, taking one single month and making it exclusively for the awareness of our nutrition is kind of silly since we should be aware of what we're fueling ourselves with every single day (another few M&M's down the gullet). It's kind of like Valentine's Day. Why is there this one day of the year in which we are supposed to go above and beyond to prove our love for our significant other? Should we not show appreciation every single day?
The thing with being a shift worker - when you should be sleeping, you're eating. When you should be eating, you're sleeping. Our digestive systems aren't meant to be programmed this way and therefore constantly fight against the schedule that the worker is trying to create. At night the digestive system naturally slows down, so if you're scarfing down a meal at 2 am while filing patient reports, it's generally not going to work well in the flow of things. Plus there's the evil vending machine temptations which only grow stronger as the wee hours of the shift approach. Also, shift workers tend to rely a lot on coffee and other caffeinated beverages, which in many cases is considered a meal when the worker is incredibly busy and only has the time and drink something. And then of course all of the caffeine further messes with the sleep cycle.
But in lieu of this month, I feel the need to comment on the topic at hand. Working in a hospital, I think that there needs to be increased awareness about the nutrition of shift workers (such as nurses, doctors, and all of the rest of us who work crazy hours). Shift workers work strange hours, sometimes even night shift, and this really messes up your eating and sleeping schedules When our normal schedules and eating patterns get altered regularly, this confuses the human body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) which an cause problems such as weight gain (or loss in some cases), indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, stomach ulcers and all kinds of other unplesantries.
Did you know that chronic sleep deprivation can be a huge cause of weight gain? Not only are we tired but also getting soft around the edges. It's just not fair.
Maybe I should also mention that shift workers are more likely to develop angina, heart disease, high blood pressure and a high risk of stroke. It's pretty scary stuff. The people who are here to help you through your hospital visits and get you healthy are people who are having an incredibly difficult time staying healthy themselves.
If you're a shift worker and you want to try to stay healthy, or get healthier in your current position, there are many things you can do to fight for your health.
- Pack a meal from home. You'll have control over what you're putting in your belly and not needing to rely on vending machines, the box of donuts that someone else brought to work for the gang or whatever your co-workers left in the community fridge last week.
- Drink water. Water is the best fluid option and no matter how much you love your coffee, Red Bull or other energy drink, proper hydration is the best way to stay alert.
- Don't eat a big meal before you go to sleep. If you get home and you're starving, have a small snack to satisfy the edge and go to bed. Sleeping on a full stomach is hard on the digestive tract.
- Avoid sugary and fatty snack foods during the shift. This can be so hard, especially if you're working nights and are bored. Bring snacks from home, such as fresh fruit, veggie sticks, hummus, natural peanut butter or a homemade muffin (C'mon. We all know you nurses love to bake.)
- Get some exercise. If there's some spare time throughout the shift, go walk the stairs for 15 minutes. Exercise is good for the brain and the body.
Stay healthy. Stay strong.
Now go hug a nurse.