Coping With Shift Work

Managing diabetes is all about setting a healthy routine of medicine, eating, exercise, and sleep. But when you work night shifts or have changing work shifts, it can seem like there’s nothing at all routine about your life.

It’s definitely more of a chore to manage diabetes under such conditions, but it can be done. These tips may help.

Get organised

  • Talk to your doctor, registered dietitian, or diabetes educator. He or she will help you make a plan for dealing with your shift work.
  • Have a backpack, briefcase, or large purse that always contains your at-work essentials, such as:
    • A blood sugar meter and supplies.
    • Planned snacks.
    • Emergency snacks.
    • Medicines.
    • A water bottle.
    • Lunch.
    • An ice pack, if you don’t have access to a refrigerator.
  • Tell your employer and your co-workers that you have diabetes. Show him or her your plan. Ask for regular breaks, a place to store and take your insulin or other medicine, and a place to rest when you need it. There are various legal frameworks protecting your rights and sharing your problems in our discussion groups for employees can help if you are finding this difficult.

Manage your blood sugar

  • Test your blood sugar every couple of hours. Working night shifts or constantly changing shifts can affect your blood sugar in ways that may surprise you.
  • Keep a detailed record of your blood sugar readings, medicine doses, exercise, and sleep. This will help you and your doctor see patterns and make plans to deal with them.
  • If you haven’t already, consider updating your blood sugar meter. Newer ones do a lot of tracking for you. They record trends and keep track of carbohydrate averages per meal.

Plan your meals

  • Try planning a week’s worth of your at-work lunches at a time, so you avoid the snack machine or the nearby fast food restaurant.
  • Are you often too tired to make dinner after work? Keep a supply of healthy, ready-to-eat snacks, such as:
    • Hard-boiled eggs with dried fruit.
    • Applesauce sprinkled with sunflower seeds.
    • Cheese sticks with whole grain crackers.
    • Sliced carrots and hummus.
    • Single servings of low-sugar yogurt or cottage cheese.
    • Peanut butter on whole wheat bread.
  • Some jobs make it hard to take a snack break. Keep something in your pocket, like a small bag of dried fruit or unsalted nuts or a fruit-and-nut bar.

Keep up your exercise

  • It may be harder to keep up your regular exercise routine at home when you work nights or your shift keeps changing. Find a way to make it part of your routine. Set some goals. Take the time to think about what is getting in the way of your success and what you can do to get around those barriers.
  • At work, take a walk during your breaks. If you work at a desk, do stretches in front of your computer.
  • Use your commute to do some extra walking. Park several blocks away, or get off the bus a few stops early.

Get enough sleep

  • Avoid caffeine drinks 4 to 6 hours before bedtime.
  • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. But a light snack may help you sleep. Ask your doctor if you should snack before sleep.
  • Be aware of a problem called shift work sleep disorder. If you have trouble sleeping because of your work shift, talk to your doctor.
  • Measure your blood sugar before you go to sleep. This is especially important if your sleep time changes.

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