Healthy Shift Work in the Police
It’s no secret that shift work places a great strain on the human body. Given this, it is even more important that we look after ourselves.
Someone once told me frankly that if I didn’t look after my health while serving, I’d be wasting money on the pension scheme. From my own experience and that of colleagues, I’m going to share some tips to stay healthy. I will include the obvious stuff as well as a few things you may not know. Please feel free to add any of your own tips in the comments.
Stats show that:
-Police officers are between 30-70 times more likely to have a heart attack (Harvard University)
-40% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (WebMD)
-50% increased risk of diabetes (WebMD)
-Higher risk of stroke (WebMD)
However there are simple things we can do to reduce the risk. In the rest of this article I will try to offer you a variety of solutions. It’s important to note that I am not qualified to give health advice and that any changes to your diet or supplements should be with the support of a medical professional.
Exercise and Nutrition
Many will sigh at this point however this is the single most impactive measure you can take. The health benefits of both are well documented and can be found elsewhere. This requires planning and resilience as we all know there aren’t many healthy places to buy food at 3am (McDonalds!). Lack of exercise increases your risk of death by 20-30% (World Health Organisation). Whereas exercise heavily reduces the risks of almost every natural cause of death.
Good sleep is essential in allowing the body to recover. As a shift worker, the circadian rhythm (your biological sleep cycle) is affected and this can result in sleep deprivation and poor wellbeing. While on response, I often found that I struggled to sleep the night before the first early shift. Obviously exercise can help with sleep but there are other things you can do.
I think it’s important to learn about the science behind sleep so you can better understand how to use naps and how to plan eating and sleeping with shift work. I personally recommend the book ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. Also see the information later in the article about Magnesium supplementation, this has been life changing for me.
Another very helpful tool is a sunrise alarm clock. I received one as a present and although initially sceptical, I have found it easier to get out of bed. Be very cautious around the use of sleeping pills even if they are herbal.
For more great information on how to achieve better sleep click here.
Supplements for Sleep
It is estimated that 50% of the population don’t get enough magnesium. I began supplementing magnesium as part of a training program and was ignorant to sleep benefits however, the quality of my sleep drastically improved. There are different types on the market. Personally magnesium glycinate works wonders and has been genuinely life changing. Magnesium also helps with stress.
Supplements for Stress
Coping mechanisms for stress are crucial but there are also natural supplements which can help. You can get much of this from a multivitamin but it is worth checking how much of each vitamin or mineral is actually included.
Omega 3 fatty acids are great. You would ideally get these from oily fish however they can be easily supplemented. They can help with stress, anxiety, eye health, heart disease and many other things. My reason for taking them is for joint health. Wearing police equipment and climbing stairs/running etc is hard on joints, omega 3 helps a lot with this.
B vitamins have been shown to reduce stress. You will find them in most multi vitamins.
Vitamin D ‘the sun vitamin’ does many things including helping with stress and sleep. As a shift worker or office worker you may be deficient. Getting out in the sun occasionally will help as well as supplementing it.
Ashwagandha extract is an Indian herb that is popular for stress, anxiety and depression. I have not used it but I’ve heard good things.
I know many of our colleagues suffer with gut health. There could be many reasons for this including stress and diet. I was once close to receiving a diagnosis for IBS until I realised that drinking 2+ litres water every shift from the ice cold tap at Brighton Police Station was the culprit and the symptoms were the result of my body struggling to deal with it.
Fermented foods are great for gut health. Options include active yoghurts and pro biotic supplements. A popular and enjoyable option is to drink Kombucha. It is a fizzy drink with yeast and bacteria that you will find in the supermarkets and it tastes like a slightly off fizzy drink. Best of all, it’s now part of the Tesco and Morrison’s meal deal: Hurrah!.
As a frontline police officer, you are exposed to stress and trauma regularly. This causes a stress reaction in your body. Think of that feeling you get on the way to a grade one that sounds dangerous. The adrenal glands in your kidneys are producing these hormones a lot more than they should. This can result in adrenal fatigue which carries a number of symptoms. This can be offset with diet and exercise however there is an option of taking an adrenal support supplement to help the glands. This should be discussed with a medical professional it is a new and unproven field of study.