So you want to be a healthier shift worker?

Of course we all want to be healthier!  Anyone who works shift work knows that we have a higher risk of almost everything (disease, earlier death, etc).  So why would anyone choose a job where shift work is the norm?!  Because we LOVE it and are passionate about it!  So, what can you do to try and minimize the risks?  I have a few ideas, some of which I’ve discussed in previous blog posts but are worth mentioning again because they are just that important!

  1. SLEEP!  Sleep is so so so important!  Not just after your day shifts and night shifts, but every single time you sleep!  You need to strive for 8 hours or as close to it as possible.  I discussed some nights shift sleep tips in this blog post.
  2. FOOD!  You need to eat real, whole foods and stay away from packaged foods that are full of sugar and other garbage!  See this blog post about sugar, and this blog post about reading food labels.
  3. WATER!  Everyone needs to drink lots and lots of water in a day.  I know you’ll need to pee lots, and that sometimes this is not a great thing on a busy shift as a Paramedic (unless you want to have to use your patient’s bathroom!).  So, just drink as much as you can!  No, Red Bull and coffee and pop don’t count!  Here’s a few tips to help you drink more water.
  4. STRETCH!  Even just for 5-10 minutes a day.  Before shift, during shift, after shift, at home, whenever!  I wrote about a few on duty stretches that are easy to do in uniform here.
  5. EXERCISE!  I don’t care what you do, just get out and move!  Run, walk, ride your bike, go to a class at a gym, sign up for a community association program (bonus…these are usually cheaper than at a gym!), anything!  Find something you enjoy doing and/or find a buddy to do it with you!  You’ll help keep each other accountable!
  6. LAUGH!  I hope you work somewhere as fun as I do and can laugh a TON with your fabulous co-workers!  Find some fun friends outside of work that you can have a blast with as well!  Go to a funny movie, anything that will make you laugh!  It truly is the best medicine!

None of these are new ideas, and I know you’ve all heard them before.  But maybe this is the one time you’ll take one of the suggestions to heart and change something in your lifestyle.

Feel free to share any tips you have to become a healthier Medic!


Shift work sleep tips.

If you’re anything like me…the older you’re getting, the harder you find it to sleep between night shifts or “turn around” after your last night shift.  I miss the days when I had to set an alarm to get up for my night shifts!

Here are some of my tips for sleeping during the day (between night shifts):

  • If it’s light out when you drive home after a night shift (which it soon will be in Saskatchewan!) wear sunglasses to help block out the bright sunlight.
  • Block out all light from your bedroom.  Either use an eye mask or install blackout curtains to block the sun.
  • Use a white noise machine or fan to help block out sounds from outside if you live on a noisy street….traffic, voices, dogs barking, etc.  You could also use ear plugs, but I always found that they would fall out.
  • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages a few hours prior to the end of your shift.  Some people are more sensitive than others to this, you’ll figure it out by trial and error.
  • Avoid the “nightcap”.  Alcohol is a bad idea before bed.  It may seem to improve sleep initially, but tolerance can quickly develop and can interrupt sleep.
  • This should go without saying, but TURN YOUR PHONE OFF!  Your non-shift working family and friends do not know or understand your schedule so will text or call you right in the middle of your sleep without fail!
  • After my last night shift I know I have to get up by noon in order to be able to “turn around” back to a regular sleep pattern.  I also try to schedule a few appointments and/or spend some time outside to keep me busy and awake for the rest of the day.  I may go to bed early, but by the next day I’m usually good to go.
  • When not working nights and/or you are on days off, try to have a regular sleep pattern (go to bed and wake up at the same time each day) and try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.

If none of these tips work for you and you’re struggling with sleeping either before, during, or after your night shifts I would suggest speaking to your doctor.  There are numerous natural sleep aids (herbal teas, supplements, etc.) and prescription sleep aids.  But like any supplement or prescription it is important to talk to your health care provider to fully understand their use and potential interactions with other medications you may be taking.

Hopefully some of these can work for you!  Happy sleeping!

Night Shift Meal Planning

If you’re anything like me, your willpower seems to disappear at night and it becomes way more tempting to stop at your local convenience store and buy up all the candy in sight!  Have you also noticed that very few of the healthy options for meals stay open 24 hours a day?  This is why it becomes even more important to meal plan for your night shifts.  I’ll give you a few tips that have worked for me over the years, keeping in mind that I still “cave in” to those temptations sometimes.  It’s all about keeping it realistic with the 80/20 rule…80% of the time keeping it healthy and planned, and then allowing yourself give into the odd temptation (20%).

Tip 1:
Don’t bring extra money to work.  If this is possible for you, try to only bring some change to buy that emergency cup of coffee that we all need on those long night shifts.  The more money you bring (or worse…bringing your debit or credit card) the more tempted you’ll be to make that poor choice that will likely make you feel gross!

Tip 2:
Bring lots of snacks and less large meals.  If you’re able to, have your large meal prior to coming to work to keep yourself full for most of the night.   Pack healthy snacks to get you through the rest of the night.  Some examples: Fruit, veggies & dip, cheese, nuts, granola bars, homemade muffins (because you then know exactly what’s in them…the muffins from your local coffee shop are basically mini cakes, not healthy muffins!), yogurt, salads, etc.  If you do need to bring a larger meal, make sure it’s something you really like.  Nothing is worse than having cravings for McDonald’s and you’ve packed a meal that you don’t really want to eat.  Also, try to eat it before midnight to avoid feeling sluggish (your body is not programmed to eat a big meal at 0300!).

Tip 3:
Drink lots of water!  Try to keep yourself hydrated on your night shifts…especially if you’re like me and you like your coffee on nights!  The more the better, but I try to finish my 1.14L bottle each shift.  I’m not always successful, but the next day I can sure feel the difference.   Further to this…try to limit the caffeine after midnight in order to try to maintain some normalcy in your circadian rhythm.

The longer you are able to apply some of these tips, the better your willpower will become.  Trust me…I’ve experienced both extremes.  You won’t crave the junk as much, and you definitely won’t feel good when you do choose the junk option.  I challenge you to try one of my tips for your next night shifts!


Pre-shift Stretching

Would you workout at the gym without doing a proper warmup?  If you don’t want to injure yourself, I’d bet you answered “yes”.  Do you start your shift as a Paramedic without doing a proper warmup?  Based on my personal experiences I can say with certainty that the majority of us do not warmup or stretch prior to, or during our shift.  This is a mindset we need to change to avoid injury and prolong our careers.  There are some simple stretches you can do at the start, and throughout, your shift to keep your muscles warm and ready to go at any time.
All of the following stretches are easy to do in uniform and do not require any special equipment.  They can, and should, be done regularly throughout your shift.
photo 1-2
Chest Stretch:
 • Place your hand against the door frame at shoulder height.
 • Brace your abdominals, retract the cervical spine. (Neutral Spine Position) 
• Slowly turn your body away from the door until you feel a stretch across the chest as well as the shoulder and bicep.
Tips• To increase the stretch raise the sternum and/or increase your rotation. 
• Avoid twisting the spine.

photo 1-3


Core Twists:

• Stand upright with arms bent at 90 degrees.
Movement• Slowly rotate at the waist from side to side.
Tips • Keep your head in neutral position. As you rotate you can lift the opposite heel off the floor to get more of a stretch.


photo 1
Hip Flexor:
• Place your foot on the edge of a table, countertop, desk or car hood.
• Stand tall with your balance leg slightly in front of you.
• Without leaning or arching your back, slowly bend the balance leg knee until a stretch is felt in front of the opposite leg.
Tips • The deeper you bend your balance leg, the greater the stretch.

photo 4
Upper Back/Shoulders:

• Grab onto the handles of the ambulance door with both hands.
 • Keeping legs slightly bent, bend at the hips and feel the stretch into your shoulders and upper back.  Hold for 45 – 60 seconds and repeat.
Tips • Be sure not to round your back when leaning forward.  During stretch you can straighten your legs to also get a stretch into the hamstrings.

photo 3


Calf Stretch:
 • Stand on the back step of the ambulance.
 • Slide your feet off the edge so only the balls of your feet are on the step.  Let gravity pull your heels down off the step.  Hold for 45 – 60 seconds.
Tips• Be sure to hold the grab bars on the ambulance for balance.  Keep balls of your feet firmly on the step.


photo 2Hamstring:
• Stand with one foot on a raised surface.
Movement• Brace your abdominals, slowly lean forward from the hip until your feel a strong stretch in the hamstring area. 
• Hold for 45 – 60 seconds. 
• Repeat on the opposite side.
Tips• Be sure not to round your back when leaning forward.• A chair, a step, or the ‘Truck’ can all be used.

As you can see these are not new stretches and all can easily be done in uniform (and I was also wearing a ballistic vest for all stretches) using your ambulance or a chair or wall.  Please consider including these stretches in your pre-shift preparation!