Healthy Outlook: Tips to survive a second-shift lifestyle

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Here are some ways to embrace the advantages of working second shift, plus some tips to deal with the trickier points of the schedule.

I’ve spent the past few years working at the Journal-World’s copy desk, meaning I’d head to work in the afternoons and head home around midnight five days a week.

Just a couple of short weeks ago, the thought of switching to days as my role with the newspaper shifted into more reporting was quite daunting. Now I realize how much more complicated it can be to try to fight the natural order of the universe to work into the wee hours of the morning.

It’s backwards, really. It’s hard on the body to sleep through the first few hours of daylight and then try to wake up and be a normal, productive human being when you may or may not have anything motivating you to get out of bed immediately. When work is still hours away, why bother getting out of your PJs?

But that schedule has its good points, too. The trick is just in taking advantage of them.

Here are some ways to do that, plus some tips to deal with the trickier points. For those on graveyard shifts or even standard day shifts, some of these ideas may still apply.

The good: Reap the benefits

• Firstly, forget about having to take time off work for appointments. It can be tricky to get scheduled for a visit with your doctor or dentist regardless of the time of day, but having a wide open window for most of the morning is actually a big perk.

• On a separate but related note, enjoy the shorter lines everywhere, less traffic and smaller crowds. You can go hang out in the produce section, thumping each melon until you find the perfect one, with a lot fewer folks around to give you a dirty look for taking too long.

I think it was a wise philosopher who once said, “When they are fleck’d with brown and have a golden hue, bananas taste the best and are best for you.” The principle applies to other fruits and veggies, too, so perusing them at your leisure to find the ripe ones will actually get you a better bang for your nutrition buck.

• A leisurely workout sounds like an oxymoron, but this is one of my favorite perks of evening shifts. Taking time to bookend a long workout with an upbeat, dynamic warmup and a gradual cooldown with effective stretching to prevent muscle soreness is one of my favorite things.

Also, a small post-workout snack — such as one of the aforementioned ripe bananas, with peanut butter — can help replenish glycogen that’s depleted by a strenuous workout, thus boosting your body’s recovery. It’s hard to take time for all that on day shifts, unless you want to wake up at 4 a.m.

The less good: Seeking normalcy

Battling vampirism can be a challenge; however, thanks to the miracles of modern (and some not-so-modern) technology, being a creature of the night can be slightly less painful. The sun may be the force that holds our solar system together, and all that jazz, but it doesn’t have to control your life.

• Tip No. 1 for dealing with “the scareball” — If you don’t already have them, room-darkening curtains are a huge help. Just as science says we should limit light in our bedrooms to help us fall asleep at night, we also need to keep it dark to sleep restfully.

However, when you wake up, you should let the light in quickly. Studies (including a widely cited one from January 1981, and a 2014 one from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) show that bright light helps suppress melatonin secretion and can help cognitive function. So it’s a good idea to keep your workspace bright, too, if you can.

• On the other hand, once you get home from work, try to keep the lights dim as you unwind. Let your brain know it’s time to shut down.

The booming smart home technology industry has brought us many different lightbulbs that are capable of switching to different colors. For instance, my bedroom lamp can be bright white during the day, and it has an orangey candlelight setting for the evenings. Some are even specifically marketed as wake-up bulbs that can start simulating sunrise, timed to coincide with an alarm clock. There are a ton of brands with different features that go for a wide range of prices, but these bulbs can be helpful in particular for folks who don’t have the option of following the sun’s schedule.

• Come up with a sleep schedule that you can follow consistently. Again, it’s difficult to try to find normalcy when you’re required to work opposite hours from most people, but it will help keep your sleep healthy if you aim to go to bed and wake up around the same times each day. When you’re used to being awake until 2 a.m., it doesn’t seem like that big a stretch to stay up until 4 on your weekends, but you should avoid that — or the inverse of trying to go to bed a couple of hours early so you can wake up with the rest of the world.

About Healthy Outlook

Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.

Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:

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