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  • Writer's pictureChris

Shift Work Sleep Disorder and Dieting

Shift work sleep disorder is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder characterized by sleep problems that stem from working long or irregular hours.

As the world has become more industrialized more and more of us work outside the "normal" hours of a workday. Roughly 25 million Americans work shift work, that is a staggering number of people. And most of these people will experience what is referred to as shift worker syndrome. This is a sleep disorder and the effects of the sleeplessness that comes with it.

This condition can present itself with symptoms such as fatigue, depression, weight gain, aggressiveness, memory impairment, impulsivity, hormonal imbalances, and so on. It also places you at higher risk for cancer and addiction.

Some pretty damn serious issues if you ask me and even though the topic today is specifically how shift work can affect your diet, our lives are not compartmentalized, and what affects one area will affect the others, no matter how much you may want to deny that fact.

Shift work sleep disorder or SWSD is more or less long periods of little sleep and lack of sleep affects the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin. These regulatory hormones tell us when we are hungry and when we are full, when we become sleep deprived our leptin levels decrease while our ghrelin levels increase. This makes us feel hungry and inhibits the signals that tell us when we are full, causing us to want to overeat. This combined with the lower inhibitions associated with SWSD can cause short-term overeating and long-term weight gain. To make matters even worse the effects of sleeplessness impact how the body regulates blood sugar and this one-two punch puts the shift worker at higher risk for insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes.

This reality underscores the importance of hard physical activity particularly in the form of resistance training. Resistance training increases insulin sensitivity and will increase muscle mass and bone density while improving how our body's immune system functions.

But I digress, we are here to talk about diet...

As mentioned above shift work can cause some seriously nasty issues.

So how do we address these issues in the context of the food we eat...

The first thing, and the largest contribution to your health and waist size, is to be aware of how much you are actually eating calorie-wise. This is something that takes time to get a handle on, most likely you would be very surprised at how much you are actually eating. Download a tracker app, like myfitnesspal, and just record what you eat in the day. It doesn't have to be weighed or measured at first but this will give you an idea of the quantity you are eating.

Secondly, To help reduce the urge to binge and blindly graze not only through the night but as you go through your non-working day avoid high salt foods. These foods can further increase cravings especially for sweet and savory foods that carry a high caloric punch. So, pack a few fibrous snacks alongside your lunch and only eat what you bring to work. When you get home have something filling but is low in sodium.

Finally, sleep. I know how obvious it may seem but work on your damn sleep hygiene. I am guilty of ignoring this myself and I have to remind myself and literally write down my sleep time. This is the underlying issue with everything else that is going on. I understand how difficult it can be to sleep enough but make some effort here. Buy a sleep mask, wear earplugs, plan things you need to get done AROUND your sleep. Go see a doctor if you need to. And seriously do not drink before going to bed, it will make you sleep worse and even further the chances of addiction, impulsivity, and overeating.

And P.S. go to the damn gym.

Have a safe and quiet shift


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