There are many reasons to enjoy working the night shift if you’re a nurse---many times you can earn more money, less management is present, the patient visitations slow down, less tests are being administered and fewer phone calls are being made.
However, one of the most dreadful parts of working the night shift for many nurses is the dreaded weight gain. If you feel like you’ve gained weight since working at night, you’re not going crazy.
Research Finds Weight Gain Trends in Night Shift Nursing
Several nurses complain of weight gain when working the night shift, and over the years, plenty of research has shown that this is a real problem. According to a study published in the May 2012 issue Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, an experiment conducted with 2,000 Australian nurses found that nurses who switched from the day shift to the night shift gained weight over a two-year period, with their Body Mass Index increasing my 0.5 units. (http://www.livescience.com/36375-night-shift-weight-gain-bmi.html)
To put things into perspective, a person with a BMI of 25 to 30 is considered overweight, anything over 30 is considered obese. Nurses who switched from night time to day time experienced weight loss and lowered their BMI by 3 units.
The reason night shifts tend to be disastrous are interconnected--- the answer typically lies somewhere between sleeping, eating and hormonal imbalance.
Let’s start with circadian rhythms. You’re circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes impacted by light and darkness. Naturally, these rhythms influence sleeping and waking hours, hormone releases and other bodily functions.
Switching to the night shift can easily disrupt your circadian rhythm, and if you’re not sleeping enough, that can lower your metabolic rate.
If your body isn’t secreting a sufficient amount of serotonin and dopamine due to whacked out sleep schedules, it tries to find a way to compensate, often times through sugary foods. Your natural food cravings and hunger become interrupted. Sweet foods will give you an alternate source of serotonin and dopamine, but it also will give you an excess amount of calories.
A lack of proper sleep also causes a release of cortisol, which is also referred to as the stress hormone. This has a direct correlation with weight gain in the abdominal area.
See how dramatically sleep, hormones and diet can impact what’s happening to your body?
Get An Eating Schedule
While you may not be able to change when you’re working, you can change certain behaviors to battle the night shift nurse bulge.
Firstly, bring pre-made meals and snacks to work! Yes, it takes some time and thought to prepare food as opposed to picking something out of the vending machine, but your body and clothes will thank you.
Eating balanced meals every four hours with a healthy snack included to help to regulate your metabolism and bring some balance back into your body. We know that everyone’s version of “healthy meals” may be vastly different, so here are some great healthy meal plan ideas we found on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/maryrightmire/healthy-meal-plan-ideas/
Place an emphasis on proteins, health fats, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. This is key to maintaining sugar levels and energy during your late shift.
Start Moving More
When it comes to getting in shape, exercise is pretty much an obvious answer. However, we understand that it can be hard to carve out time to go to the gym or take a class on a regular basis. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate natural exercise into your days. For example, if you average 5,000 steps a day when working in the hospital, making a personal goal to increase your steps by1,000 to 2,000 could cause a serious shift in the scale. Just where a pedometer to count your steps and find ways to add extra steps in your day. For example, park further away from your workplace or take the stairs more often.
If that sounds a bit too boring for you, check out these creative mini workouts other nurses manage to do while on the job: http://www.nursezone.com/nursing-news-events/more-features/Do-Anywhere-Workouts-for-Nurses_39420.aspx
Get Quality Sleep
Since you’re sleeping during the day time, make sure you are sleeping in a darkened area, to encourage the regular functioning of your circadian rhythms and hormone releases. Turn your phone and devices of before you get ready to retire to bed so you can avoid disruptions. Also, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep. Experts say that’s the magic number needed to function properly and feel well rested.
Have you dealt with weight gain after switching shifts? If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, tell us in the comments!