ConstipationIs shift work affecting more than your sleep schedule?
Working shifts means working against your body's natural rhythms, which can
affect your health. Shift workers are often less physically active and tend
to have poor eating habits, which can cause digestive and stomach problems.
Because of this, there are special nutritional considerations for those who
Our bodies work according to a natural sleep-wake cycle, also referred to as
a circadian rhythm, which controls our body temperature, our hormone
levels, and the way our organs and body systems work - including the digestive
system. You may eat in a rush, or have a tendency to overeat at night, when
the digestive system is working less efficiently. Because shift work affects
your eating habits, shift workers often experience more digestive problems such
as constipation, diarrhea, gas, indigestion, heartburn, stomach ulcers, or changes
in appetite and weight (either gain or loss), than do workers who work during
During the day, your body works more efficiently than at night. In the evening
and at night, as your body temperature drops, your biological processes slow
down, resulting in decrease in strength, alertness, and digestion. Your circadian
rhythm is at its lowest point between 3 am and 4 am. Shift work creates
a conflict between your body and its natural rhythm. After a night shift, you
go home and want to sleep, but your body may think it is time to wake up.
Do you consume caffeine in the form of coffee, tea, iced tea, colas, or chocolate
during work to stay alert and awake? Too much caffeine causes the kidneys to
excrete excess water and leads to dehydration. Dehydration can cause feelings
of fatigue - and it may lead to constipation. Keep a water bottle at your work
station and drink regularly throughout your shift. Staying hydrated will make
bowel movements softer and easier to pass.
And what about your food choices? When it's just you and the vending machine,
it's easy to choose foods that are high in fat and sugar. But while snack food
high in sugar can give you the jolt of energy you need, it will lead to feelings
of fatigue later in the shift. And take-out food can be high in fat, which is
difficult to digest and leads to weight gain. These low-fibre choices contribute
to constipation. Carbohydrate-rich foods high in fibre and low in fat, such
as fruits, vegetables, and wholewheat breads, will help reduce digestive problems,
especially constipation, and help you stay regular regardless of what time of
day it is. Find healthy alternatives to the chocolate. Go for foods such as
cereal or breakfast bars, pretzels, milk, juice, yogurt, soup, and small cans
of baked beans.
And when the lifestyle-change approach by itself does not provide the relief
you need, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your medication options, such
as natural laxatives, that can help relieve your constipation.