We’ve noticed a lot of shift worker communities online. I’m not talking about just a few here—I’m talking about hundreds. These communities also each tend to have thousands of active followers. Surprising, right? Until you remember that over 30 million people in the U.S. currently live with shift work.
From Instagram accounts to Twitter hashtags, Facebook pages to subreddits, it’s clear that shift workers are looking for spaces online to connect. Some of these communities are full of funny and relatable memes, hoping to get a few laughs out of their followers. Others are centered around giving general advice and support. When we took a closer look, we noticed something else: Questions and concerns from shift workers that (directly or not) involve circadian rhythms. That inspired us to start this very blog series. It also involves our favorite thing: helping people with science.
By addressing some of these FAQs that we see online, we hope to be an additional resource for the shift work community. If you have a question you would like us to answer next in this series, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1: “I would experience this weird sensation where all the sudden I feel more tired around 1:30am – 3:30am, they tend to vary but it’s really annoying, not sure what is going on…”
Ah, we know exactly what’s going on here. Around 3am is an interesting time to be awake (and no, we’re not talking about the “witching hour”). It’s because your body’s internal clock is often trying its absolute best to force you into sleep around this time. If you continue to stay awake and push through it, your clock will eventually back off and stop sending quite so strong a signal for sleep. This is probably what’s going on with the “weird sensation” this particular shift worker is experiencing.
Another fact regarding this time of night is that, due to the strong urge your body is sending for sleep, your likelihood of making a mistake goes way up. Which is another reason why it’s so important to have an internal clock that is in sync with your unique work schedule. By adjusting your internal clock, you can eliminate this excessive sleepiness that occurs in the middle of the night and be more awake on your shift.
2 “I need to lose weight and I feel like it’s so much harder to do on night shift. Some of my coworkers don’t eat at all during shift but I end up getting hungry. Yet I also will wake up feeling snackish throughout the day so I basically end up eating round the clock with no “fast” like normal people have at night. So many people say intermittent fasting is the easiest diet but I can’t figure it out with this schedule.”
We reference your body’s “internal clock” frequently. This is your central circadian clock and it’s responsible for many of your internal functions throughout the day. But did you know that your stomach also has a clock of its own?
It’s true, and your stomach is better prepared to digest food at certain times of the day versus others. You can think of this as your “ideal meal window.” The time of this window depends on the signals that come from your body’s internal clock. In other words, your specific “best” meal window is unique to you. This is why it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to timing your eating. But how do you know when that window is? Well, our app, Shift, has the answer for you.