Improving gut health for night shift workers

In the modern era, many people are opening their eyes to the true importance of maintaining the health of their gut. Shift workers in particular struggle with gut health, considering the difficulty of maintaining good habits during a demanding schedule. Many night shift workers often find themselves more vulnerable to health issues and find certain eating habits can have a negative impact on their digestive health.

Here are 7 tips to IMPROVE gut health for night shift workers,

1. Eat your main meal before going to work

It is recommended to eat the main meal before going to work. This helps by allowing the body to process and digest the food before they begin their shift. Eating before a shift will ensure the body remains fuelled for the long hours ahead and will assist with maintaining energy levels.

We all get that lull after eating big meals that make us feel like a sedated sloth or make us want to put on our PJ’s for a nanna nap. Eating smaller meals or snacks whilst on shift will prevent that dip in energy.

2. Avoid high-fat, fried or spicy foods

Certain foods are much harder to digest, especially during the night time when the digestive system slows down. High-fat, fried, and spicy foods should be avoided as they could cause heartburn, indigestion, gas and constipation.

We all love a bit of spice in our lives but definitely best to leave the spice for the days off if wanting to avoid an uncomfortable shift at work.

3. Pack healthy meals and snacks

Our taste buds often cause us a bit of a dilemma. Its so frustrating to say this, but often things that taste the best tend to have bad implications on your health. To avoid being tempted by those delicious but not helpful snacks, pack more healthy options such as fruit, hummus and carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, home made granola or smoothies with added protein.

Smaller snacks and lighter meals are better foods to eat during a shift, as they don’t cause as much distress to the gut when eaten, due to food being much easier to digest in small portions.

Soup is a great thing to eat during a night shift as the liquid form of the food means it’s already started to be broken down and puts less strain on the digestive system.

4. Substitute caffeine for water

Caffeine is a substance that many shift workers rely on, rather than the generally accepted glucose and good amount of rest. This is a bad habit to get into as caffeine causes distress to the gut, making digestion a needlessly painful experience.

Instead drink water when feeling the need for refreshment. This has notably better benefits in regards to not just general health but the gut too. If a pick-me-up is required, one cup of coffee is actually generally healthy, just best not to drink it in excess.

5. Skip sweet snacks

When the urge to buy and consume a treat comes over a shift worker, it’s best for them to avoid the sugar.

Research has shown that the pancreas doesn’t work as well during the night so it’s not able to manage the blood sugar. A healthier and more gut friendly option would be to reach for nuts, seeds and yoghurts.

6. Take ACTIVE breaks

An often forgotten part of gut health is the physical aspect. It’s not always about what you eat, but also how well your body is equipped to deal with it. Making the most of the break times and ensuring there is some gentle exercise throughout the shift will keep the body ‘well equipped’.

The best advice would be to take walks or go on a brief bicycle ride if possible, during break times – this helps immensely with both digestion and general health.

7. Have a light snack before bed

Another good way to maintain a healthy gut, similar to the first tip, is to eat at a specific time. On this occasion we are referring to before going to bed. Eating a snack before sleep keeps the gut active.

The reason why this is so healthy for the gut is because digestion, as a process, is better maintained with frequent action, rather than large periods of inaction.

Tips for a healthy home office

There are many positive aspects to allowing employees to work from home or adopting a more hybrid way of working. However there are some factors that do need to be considered that could cause a potential issue for those working in this way.

“The environment was beginning to make me feel rather burnt out as well as effecting my ability to function productively in my role.”- Admin Assistant

The best way to advise on how to improve a home office environment is to take a look at the downsides as opposed to working in an office environment. So what are they?

  • Poor seating and desk setup
  • Less resources and equipment
  • Switching off and setting boundaries is difficult
  • Less inclined to take set breaks and have actual downtime
  • Poor environmental factors 
  • Inadequate lighting 
  • Less communication
  • Lack of connection with others in person

The desk and seating

Whilst working on your sofa may sound amazing, the practicality of it that it can cause numerous issues with your back. It is always advisable not just for posture, but for state of mind to have a separate work space dedicated to your time of working.

Space doesn’t have to be an issue as you can actually set up an area in a small corner if you are clever about the choice of desk and chair. You could also make use of your dining table. And if you don’t have space for an appropriate ergonomic chair, you could use your existing dining chairs and add a sitting wedge to angle your pelvis forward and correct your posture. You can also get a backfriend or lumbar support.

Poor seating arrangements can cause so many musculoskeletal problems (MSK). Other equipment that can be purchased to ensure a safe set up are a peripheral mouse, a wrist wrest and a footrest. These simple and sometimes inexpensive items can make a huge difference to future physical issues for someone working from home.

Equipment and resources

‘Tech neck’ is an issue to watch out for; the stress caused to muscles in the neck, back and shoulders by leaning forward for long periods of time. This is exacerbated by using smart phones, tablets and laptops. To reduce this risk it is best to a desk top PC where the monitor height can be adjusted to eye level.

Offices are designed in such a way that everything an employee needs is available. When they start working from home; that equipment they once had to hand such as printers, stationery, other office accessories and also adequate internet are no longer accessible. There is nothing more frustrating if you don’t have the best Wi-Fi and the connection is continuously dropping out. Its enough to make the most placid person on the planet turn into a swearing lunatic who threatens the PC with actual physical harm.

Boundaries

Just 3% of UK employees want to work from home most of the time, according to research carried out by global workplace experts Steelcase in March 2021. The findings also revealed that nearly one in five (18%) reported a worsening level of productivity.

Not having that commute (however long or short) to the office can mean there is no clear divide between switching off from your home life to entering into the mindset of your working day. It is therefore imperative to ensure the worker is able to schedule in regular breaks away from their desk and screen to move around, go for a walk and just separate themselves momentarily. This will help to prevent any future burnout and issues with productivity.

Breaks and downtime

Employees should be encouraged to practice the 40-20 rule, which is to sit and work for 40 minutes, then move around and walk for 20 minutes. If this is not practical, encouraging the worker to take a lunch break walk will help instil some acknowledgement of self care and bring a sense of mindfulness as they walk, relieving and stress and built up tension.

Setting clear start and finish times is so important too as many have found they would be checking emails constantly and never actually switching off when they should be relaxing with their family.

Environmental Factors

Employees should be encouraged to cultivate a nice-looking home workspace. Somewhere a member of staff would choose to be, rather than be out of requirement. Therefore a good way to look at this and approach creating the space, is to make a home out of your workspace.

Similarly, the environment they work in should befit that of a respected person. Clean. Free of clutter, and decorated with personality (collectibles, stickers, statues). This way, a member of staff would feel relaxed, at home, and motivated. Ensuring your staff are aware of the importance of their workspace when setting up their office area is paramount.

Lighting

The lighting around a member of staff can genuinely affect their mood and output a lot.

If staff are working in areas with weak lighting (broken lights included) – the staff are known to feel more lethargic, less motivated, and less driven to complete the tasks that are laid out.

Due to this, strong lights with warmer glows give a better sense of motivation to members of staff and are actually documented as having strong positive impacts on their mood; particularly if the source of the light is the sun. For this reason, setting up a workspace in an area with larger windows would be beneficial.

Communication

The greatest issue facing staff in the modern era is a feeling of disconnect between them and those who are supposed to be their superiors and also their colleagues. It is of the upmost importance to create a strong positive repour between staff members and management. This will ensure staff are not intimidated by situations where they may need to ask for help and can also gain assistance and guidance from their peers.

The best way to do this, would be to have some level of open chat between staff members. There are so many options available now for internal communications, and do not have to simply rely on email and calls. The members of staff should be encouraged to use all methods available to them that they are comfortable using.

It isn’t uncommon for members of staff who enjoy their jobs to mention their good bonds with their colleagues, as the main reason for this enjoyment. This is a good thing to keep in mind in terms of staff well being when home working is being introduced. Additional team building and bonding days should be increased to accommodate the changes.

Connection

In a similar vain to the last point, staff often feel limited in their capability to converse with colleagues. A limitation often born from mental blocks, making them worry they’ll be disciplined if they ever converse on topics that aren’t entirely topical to the job they’re doing. However, for the benefit of their motivation and enjoyment of their job, ‘chatting’ should be encouraged, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their output too much.

It also has a significant effect when it comes to reducing burnout. Having a chuckle at a fellow member of staff’s joke while working keeps morale high and motivation at its peak.

Depression and Suicidal Thoughts

Having recently left the armed forces after tours in Afghanistan, Adam found himself in such a dark place.  He was struggling to find his sense of purpose and life was seemingly pulling away from him.  His relationship had ended, he was in need of work and was unsure of what he wanted from life.  The days were long, lonely and dark and depression had engulfed him.  It was beginning to swallow everything he once held dear and cover his life in grey clouds.  He found himself wanting the pain of his life to stop, and wondering how he could end his life completely.

Adam had witnessed such terrible things whilst on tour and carried some guilt for having survived where others did not.  He was certain the depression he was feeling was as a result of his experiences over the last few years.  Thoughts of what happened on his tours haunted him and was unable to allow himself to be happy.  He wasn’t sure what the point of it all was anymore.  Everything about his day to day life seemed so unimportant and trivial and his depression sank deeper each passing day.

“Before I came to you I’ve never been in such a dark place in my life and I don’t think I ever will be again. The thought of killing myself on a daily basis just did not seem like a big deal anymore, it was just the thing that was always on my mind. 

After coming to see you I started looking at things more positively and was able to pull myself out of a negative mind space more easily.”

Adam was told about Rapid Transformational Therapy and his mother asked him to give it a try.  She was worried about him as she had noticed how his moods had altered.  She was aware of the dark thoughts he was having and knew he needed some form of intervention.

Rapid Transformational Therapy looks at the root cause of any issue and Adam was surprised by the root cause that showed up during his session.  He had expected it to be as a result of the events experienced whilst on tour, and yet was so surprised to discover that those events were nothing at all to do with why his mental health had deteriorated.  Although they may have acted as a trigger, the root cause came from early on in his life and a belief he had formed at an early age.  A belief he wasn’t aware he held. 

“People say to me now ‘You look happy!’ and that sounds like a small thing, but that is huge for me.  I am in a really good place now with my mental health and mindset.”

After Adam’s initial session we did some coaching around his career goals which also helped to turn his life around.  Finding a new sense of purpose, enjoyment and fulfilment in his life.

10 months after Adam’s initial session, he is now working in his dream job and has just bought a house with his girlfriend.  And has stated that he can’t recommend RTT enough.  It has not only changed his life but it has saved his life.