How To Find The Right Balance Between Shift Work And A Healthy Lifestyle

How To Find The Right Balance Between Shift Work And A Healthy Lifestyle

Are you barely surviving or in need of a serious shift in energy as a shift worker? We have a ray of sunshine for you.

In this new episode of Swanwick LIVE, James Swanwick interviews Emma Smith, a Registered Nurse, Clinical Nurse Specialist, and former Assisted Nurse Unit Manager. Founders and content creators of The Other Shift, Emma, and her husband Daniel help shift workers, and those on unusual schedules find a balance between work and life.

Emma and Daniel, being shift workers themselves, understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships, and how to improve your sleep quality. She is excited to show you that it’s possible to stay on top of your game with your unique schedule. 🙌

This video is for you if your mission is to kick your shift work sleep disorder out the door and be firmly in control of your irregular schedule.

Press play below to shift into thrive mode.

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Resources mentioned:

Key topics and timestamps:

01:19 - Emma Smith introduces herself and The Other Shift.

04:36 - A typical shift Emma works.

07:14 - The benefits of wearing Classic Day Swannies as shift workers.

08:51 - Why an irregular shift disrupts your sleep pattern and circadian rhythm.

10:00 - How shift work impacts the dynamics of relationships.

12:48 - Emma shares her best practices for quality sleep before a shift.

19:20 - Best eating habits to thrive as a shift worker.

22:12 - How Emma prioritizes her sleep to improve her quality of life as a shift worker.

25:32 - James shares how wearing Swannies helps him wind down watching Netflix.

28:26 - Tips to help insomniacs improve their sleep quality.

34:52 - How Emma optimizes her bed for optimal sleep.

37:36 - When Emma wears her Day and Night Swannies.

39:48 - How sticking to a routine after a shift is beneficial.

42:41 - How shift work can compromise your social life and tips to fix it.

44:53 - Emma shares her go-to tips to prevent shift work depression.

49:23 - James talks about the benefits of wearing a Swanwick 100% Silk Sleep Mask.

51:11 - The disadvantages of shift work and how to deal with it in a healthy way.

56:49 - Emma’s key takeaways to navigate the challenges of shift work.

Full audio transcript:

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James Swanwick: Well, we are live now - James Swanwick here from Swanwick. Great to see you here. And we're joined today by Emma Smith, who is a registered nurse in Australia and the co-founder of a great group and community named The Other Shift, which helps shift workers with their sleep and with their energy and with their clarity and focus. Emma, it's great to have you here.

Emma Smith: Thanks. Thanks for having us. I'm so excited.

James Swanwick: Before you tell us about The Other Shift if you're watching right now and you're joining on Facebook or YouTube, go ahead and leave a comment and tell us where you are watching from and if you have a question about night shift work or about sleep, whether you should nap during the day or When's the best time to sleep? How do you relax and repair when you're doing night shifts all the time, go ahead and post a comment or post a question. And Emma and I will do our best to answer that. So just tell us a little bit about The Other Shift, Emma?

Emma Smith: I've been nursing for 10 years, and I specialized in emergency nursing, sort of after about four years into my nursing career. So I've been learning about emergency medicine and you see lots of things as a nurse. You know, you go on your break at nine o'clock in the morning and someone will buy some hot chips because they've just come off a night shift, and that's what they have for breakfast. Then they're sluggish all day, and they complain that they can't sleep.

You see that sort of extreme and then you see people that are meal planning and they're diligent, they're organized and they've got this amazing sleep routine setup. So you think sort of both ends of the spectrum. It's interesting.

For the last two years we've been living in America, my husband and I. We've watched a lot of MBA and we've been able to experience a wonderful life here in America and talking to friends back at home. It's given me, you know, to learn about what's hearing about things, what's happening back in Melbourne back in my workplace, and thinking back to the struggles and the routine of what people have had back when they were nursing. It's given me a bit of a different perspective on some people.

Some people do the shift working really well and some people don't. As I've had a bit of time in America, and while I've been waiting for Visa paperwork and things to come back, I thought, What can I do to help? What can I do to help these people, these night shift workers live a healthier lifestyle?

So one day I just had an epiphany when I was in America and thought I could start a website. I didn't know anything about website development. I didn't know anything about this sort of world, I'm a nurse, I don't do tech stuff. But I thought: okay, I can do this.

So we started this website and it's a blog based website, but we answer individual questions and we help in any way we can. We help people who work a night shift, who work a rotating roster, maybe people who work day shift or swing shift, or whatever all the non-traditional shifts, is where we like to help people so I like to get a range of different people.

I know healthcare and I know nursing, but I don't know other things. Then my husband did a bit of night shift there for two years or so, and he was in an office job. So we've got a bit of a different perspective on shift work. So yeah, it's really exciting what we do. I'm still a nurse now I'm just about to go do a shift when we're finished here. So it's good that I can get some real-life experience and put it into a blog. And it's not all notes not made up. It's a real-life experience that I can actually give people. So it's a genuine thing, and I'm really excited.

James Swanwick: What's a typical shift that you might work as a registered nurse?

Emma Smith: Anything. So generally our emergency department, it's broken down into three main shifts. So there's a 7 until 3:30. And then there's an afternoon shift that's from 1:30 to 10-ish. And then there's an odd shift that runs from about nine o'clock, nine o'clock 9:30 until seven in the morning. And then there's a couple of random shifts in between so there might be a five o'clock start that finishes at one o'clock just to cover sort of meal breaks and things. But generally, it's broken up into those three shifts.

James Swanwick: So 7 am until 3:30 in the afternoon 1:30 pm until 10 at night and 9 pm until 7 am. And the way that they schedule you, can it be the same time slot for many weeks or days at a time? Or does it change?

Emma Smith: Change!

James Swanwick: Give us an example.

Emma Smith: Yeah, it changes. So I might work three days shifts in a row. So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday could be day shift. And then, on the first day, they'll put me on an afternoon and then I might have four days off. Then after my four days off, I might do three night shifts. And then I might have one day off and then I'll go back on to a pm so it's totally random.

Some nurses really like to work the night shift, and they just want to do that constantly. But my boss likes everyone to understand what happens in every shift. So, look, they may do 60% nights, but then my boss will say no, no, you need to see what happens in the daytime. So they'll put them on a day shift and they hate it.

James Swanwick: Sarah on Facebook asks: Is Emma wearing Swanwick glasses too?

Emma Smith: Sure and I love these ones because they don't get caught in my hair. If I put them on my head they get caught in my hair. I wear these. I don't know what I did before without looking at a computer or looking at my device. I constantly wear these. I think I'm wearing Swanwick's more than when I'm not wearing them. So I flick between these ones and my nights anytime I'm at home pretty much just before I'm gonna go to sleep after shift. I switch to the ones that you're wearing.

James Swanwick: Yeah. I'm curious, you were saying like seven to 3:30, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 1:30 to 10 on Tuesday night. So there has to be disruptive for your sleep patterns and for your circadian rhythm like being all over the place like that. Just tell us how taxing that can be on the body.

Emma Smith: Really taxing, it's unfortunate that we haven't evolved into shiftwork warriors, and despite how long shift work jobs have been around. It's really unfortunate for us that our body clock hasn't allowed us to, you know, it's fine to be asleep during the day and to be awake at night. It's unfortunate that hasn't happened for us. But it can be really taxing and it can be incredibly frustrating that you can't fall asleep after you've been working for a 12-hour night shift and you get home and you can't sleep. That can be incredibly frustrating.

James Swanwick: When you work those shifts, how taxing is it on relationships as well because I would imagine that having your husband Dan and working on them sounds like a most stable shift. How does that affect the dynamic of a relationship?

Emma Smith: Yeah, you really learn to communicate, and you learn to find a new normal. Particularly in an intimate relationship. So with my husband, we have to find ways that we can connect and be comfortable, you know, talking like this or, you know, using different devices to be able to communicate.

But it's funny from a nursing perspective for the guys that are watching and Connie, I can see you on YouTube. And it's interesting that you start to make friends with other shift workers, and particularly in the nursing world, you start to make friends with people who understand your schedule, but you know, you lose a few friends. I know that when I started working shift work you do lose a few because they just don't understand your schedule, but you have to become comfortable with catching up with people that do really odd times. So you may have breakfast dates, or you may catch up with people and have dinner at 4:30 because that's just what works for someone with kids. So you learn to find a new normal, but it isn't impossible and it's, you know, in a very happy marriage and I was proven that you can do it, it just looks a bit different.

James Swanwick: We have someone on Facebook who's saying: I'm a telephone exchange operator at a hotel. I work at night. So what if someone is going all the way through, say starting at nighttime and going through until 6 am? Let's say it's 10 pm until 6 am shift or you mentioned there 9 pm until 7 am shift. Um, what should they do to prepare for sleep? And when should they actually be going to sleep and how should they sleep? You know, after they finish their shift at 7 am in order that they're back and fresh and their bodies working the way it’s supposed to be working. Yeah, so just talk us through best practices for that shift.

Emma Smith: Yes, there's a lot of things. Thank you for the question. There's a lot of things that come into organizing yourself for that shift. Firstly I'd ask how many night shifts you're on at one go. So if this is just a one-off shift, the preparation may look different as opposed to if you're working sort of four-night shifts in a row. So let's say for this example that you are working four night shifts in a row. I was in the same situation as we started sort of similar time.

In terms of sleep preparation, you could for the first couple of days before you start the night shift, you can start going to bed a little bit later. So for normal time that you'd go to sleep is nine o'clock at night, you may stretch that out for two hours, go to sleep at 11 o'clock, and then you progressively for a couple of days leading up you start to progressively move your sleep from 11 and then you might go to sleep at one o'clock then you might go to sleep at two o'clock to progressively look like a night shift worker before you even start.

Then when you do start your shift, it's not such a big shock and your body's in, sort of, I guess I call it going into meltdown and by six o'clock you get in your car to drive home. So that's one method, the other method, I don't usually do that because I'm on a rotating roster and I'm generally working an afternoon or day shift the night before. So how I do it is, let's say I was starting your shift on a Monday morning, on the Sunday night. I go to bed at a normal time, but then to have a big sleep in. I then like to do all my housework. I do a bit of meal prep and work out in the afternoon. And then I get to about 4:30, sort of five o'clock in the afternoon and I have a really big nap, have a nice nutritious dinner before I go to a shift and then I would start work.

So there are a couple different ways that you can organize this, organize this night shift routine. I mean you just have to find out what works for you. During the shift, I guess what you can do to get yourself to be able to sleep tonight and approach your extra shift with a lot of energy is to make sure you're having a big nutritious meal, full of veggies. I like to think of that as many veggies and colors as I can in a meal. Some proteins and healthy fats. Eat that before you leave for shift and then throughout the shift, your digestive system slows and it basically goes to sleep.

As I was saying our body clock is all dependent on the light. So when the sun goes down, the digestive system effectively goes to sleep and doesn't really want us to eat anything. Eating small little snacks throughout the night is much better than having a second dinner as it was a way to refer to me when I started nursing at two o'clock at night. It's much better to have maybe some hummus with some carrot and some celery dipped in or a handful of almonds, some soup because it's super hydrating. It is a much better thing to have between the hours of midnight and six o'clock. If you do get hungry, I'd recommend eating those sorts of foods.

And then just before you're going to go to sleep when you get home, I recommend having a small breakfast. A lot of people aren't hungry at this point and just go to sleep. But the problem with this is you wake up at about midday and you're so hungry. Then you go and eat, you open all the blinds you're exposing your eyes to, you're waking up that melatonin and wait if you do try to go back to sleep after you've eaten this meal can be really, really difficult. So I'm a big advocate for having a tiny breakfast even if that's just a cup of hot milk. I totally recommend doing this before you go to sleep.

James Swanwick: Emma, I have a question here from someone watching on Facebook who asks for weight loss, should you eat directly after a shift if you're finishing work at 7 am in the morning say should you be eating there? Or when is the best time to eat if you're looking for weight loss? You still have to eat right but when is the right time to do it, compared to when you go to sleep, for example.

Emma Smith: I did touch on this earlier for weight loss. The after six rule - not eating after 6 pm. And well, I suppose it depends on what shifts you’re on. But I think the important thing is just to have something small before you're going to sleep.

I was just saying that when the sun's down and when it's dark outside our digestive system basically goes to sleep, and it has a little wrist. So the more that we eat during that period of time can cause bloating, we tend to get really tired during those hours. We tend to eat foods that we're drawn to, foods that are high in carbohydrates, the pizza smells really good. The burger down the road smells really good and that's what we want to eat because that's where we get our energy from. But we may get energy for the first maybe half an hour you feel really good. But then after that, you just fall into a massive hole. So I find the biggest question in terms of your weight loss that people generally put on weight or not is because we won, we overeat to eat too fast because we may not get a break or we get a really short break because it could be busy. So we eat as much food as we can, we overeat but our digestive system is asleep, which can cause a lot of bloating.

We're drawn to foods that are really high in sugar again for that energy hit. So as an alternative, eating foods like the hummus with the veggies, or the soups that have got lots of veggies in it that are super hydrating. Or, you know, a couple of almonds is a much better choice than, you know, maybe a packet of lollies.

James Swanwick: From The Other Shift if you got a question on Facebook or YouTube go ahead and post your comment or your question down below. Rod from on Facebook says: Shout out to Emma and all the frontlines during this time. A big shout out Emma. It must feel nice to get people acknowledging that. I'm sure you will always have people acknowledging you, but maybe especially so during this time.

Emma Smith: Yeah, it feels odd. It's really nice. It's really lovely and it's very humbling to see nurses on the front page of Vogue. For example, last week I just think that's really cool. It's very humbling. We get what we got for this so.

James Swanwick: You can learn more about Emma at the if you go to the You can learn more about Emma and circadian rhythms and night shift and day shift working.

What has been the biggest leverage point for you? Do you feel that improving your sleep quality as someone who works shifts like what's like the biggest thing? I know there are a number of things but like if you have had to say like if you could only do one thing to improve your quality of life as a shift worker, what would that one thing be Emma?

Emma Smith: Um, so they're gonna make it two, two things for sure work out. Prioritize it. Prioritize it and be positive that you can do it.

Everyone will say, Oh no, I can't do that. I couldn't work a night shift, I couldn't do this. And in your mind, you already think I can't do it because everyone tells you they can't. It is possible to do it. But you have to do things like protecting yourself from the light. So I think that's probably one of my main takeaways and how I've improved my sleep and how I have enough energy to keep doing what I'm doing is that being really aware of the light at particular shifts.

For example, if I come home from a night shift, I immediately close all the curtains and I put on my Swannies at the same time. The nice Swannies you're wearing, I put them on immediately. As I'm having a small breakfast, as I'm brushing my teeth, as I'm getting ready for bed. I'm very, very cautious of putting these on. Whereas in the past I've never used one.

So you might make breakfast, you put the tea, you put the telly on and you wind down after shift which is natural. And even nine to five workers, everyone needs to wind down after a shift. That could look like scrolling on your phone, looking at Instagram, looking at the TV, whatever. But I just think that being really aware of the light in that preparation time. But then importantly if you need to get up maybe use the bathroom or you get hungry at midday, to continue to close the curtains and don't turn the lights on. It seems really unnatural that you wake up and you stumbling around the house trying to not look into walls but I think that bit’s really important - If you do wake up in the middle of the day to keep everything really dark. And alternatively, if you are on a shift, it may be really tempting to turn the lights off because it's night shift you might be working like I'm using a nursing example but even if as a security guard to turn all the lights off where you are, but this is what your body wants. Your body wants to be in darkness, you know, at two o'clock in the morning, this is what your body naturally wants. So as a night shift worker you have to keep the lights on, you got to prevent your hormones like melatonin from actually doing its job. I think the light and being aware of that's probably my biggest takeaway.

James Swanwick: Hmm. Vany Sharkey on Facebook asks, doesn't the orange tint in the Swannies glasses affect the way you see things?

Emma Smith: Yeah, it does. And you have to get used to seeing people on TV with a tan. It is a little bit weird. And I guess when I first started wearing them it's more orange than what I was expecting. But it's funny, after a little while you don't even really notice it. After you've been wearing it for even an hour. I don't even notice it.

There you go. There we go. Tan! Just like putting an Instagram filter.

James Swanwick: I have my tan is even better than President Donald Trump's tan at the moment. So yeah, I mean, it's one of the things you just get used to might seem a little jarring at first, you're like, Whoa, but then after about five minutes, you're like, Oh, yeah, in fact, I find more jarring.

I mean, I watch a little bit of TV before I go to sleep each night. I think Netflix gets a bad rap because everyone's like, Oh, you shouldn't be watching Netflix before you go to sleep well, I say, watch Netflix before you go to sleep but as long as you're wearing a pair of blue light blocking glasses like the Swannies. At the moment I'm watching a TV series called Ozark and it's on Netflix the TV series and you know, I watch probably about, it ranges from a half an episode to two-thirds of an episode each night and then the next night I'll finish the second half of the episode or I'll finish the last third so I'm probably watching either 30 or 40 minutes of an episode at night. I like to watch it just to wind down. I absolutely am wearing my Swannies blue light blocking glasses as I'm doing so, on those rare occasions where I've taken the glasses off while watching the show for whatever reason I can't think of why sometimes I just go to like test it. It's super jarring to watch the actual show on the screen without the glasses. Like when I wear the glasses I'm like oh everything is like relaxing...

Emma Smith: That morning I'm instantly relaxed. It's instant for me that I didn't necessarily get headaches before and I don't wear prescription glasses but it's just an instant calm. Particularly when you've had a big shift, it's incredibly relaxing on my eyes.

James Swanwick: Yeah, yeah I find it jarring to look at a screen now without that I mean look, I strictly speaking I don't need to be wearing these right now because it's the daytime at 7:30 in the morning where we are in Australia. So I put my daytime glasses on, which are up on my bookshelf behind me. But having said that, now I'm wearing them in the daytime. I'm blocking that artificial blue light. It's fine. I'm feeling good. I look great. You look great. I think I look pretty good when everything's fine. It's not like a weird look. So I hope that helps. Danny, thank you so much for the question. We have a question here from John on Facebook, you asked, what are some tips for insomniacs to have a better sleep?

Emma Smith: So thanks, John. So besides the light, the big light thing I was talking about before even if you are an insomniac. I'm sure you've tried many, many things in the past. So I don't mean to insult you saying the following things. But there are a couple of things if you are a shift worker and you are an insomniac, it is to first find a routine for yourself. I'll tell you what a potential routine could be for you.

If you are working a night shift or whatever, doesn't really matter if it’s day or night, but when you come from the house, put on your Swannies or just jumping straight in the shower, I want to get the scrubs off as soon as possible. So I just jumped straight in the shower, nice warm shower, have some breakfast, maybe watch a little bit of TV however you want to wind down if that's reading a book, or that's scrolling your phone, watching Netflix, whatever you want to do, and then you set a time limit for yourself. Don't put on a full-length movie, when you know you don't have time for it. Start prioritizing sleep a little bit and stick to the same routine every time. Consistency, I think, is what has allowed me to get seven to nine hours sleep even as a shift worker. Obviously some shifts just don't allow for seven to nine hours but I think having a routine is one thing.

Another thing that you could use is trying a diffuser. So using lavender oil or essential oils through a diffuser in your bedroom. I found recently I've been using the headspace app, which has got some really good sort of mindfulness meditation stuff before you go to sleep. You put the headphones in or even put it on the speaker at your bedside table there. Some of them are super short, like even two minutes, three minutes might be all you need just to distract your mind from the shift you've had. So there are heaps of audio things that you can use. There's adult storybooks, meditation, or just meditative music. You can use white noise machines, you can actually buy a white noise machine or I've recently just been using my Swanwick diffuser, turn the light off and just have the diffuser going and the noise is almost like white noise for me, it's not silent.

Shift workers sometimes complain about the silence. That's just too quiet particularly if you've got blackout blinds or, you know you've made a bedroom for yourself in the basement because you've got kids in the house and it is just too noisy. You may actually need some noise, which sounds ridiculous but yeah, that could help. Another thing that I use is just drinking a little bit of hot milk before I go to sleep. I don't know if that just brings back nice childhood memories of having warm milk but that seems to work for me.

Avoiding caffeine five to six hours before you shift in so that's obviously going to look different for everyone but don't have a coffee on your way home. I know the number of times that I've got in my car and I don't remember how I've got home because I've been so tired. It's so tempting to drive past McDonald's or get $1 coffee but avoid doing that on the way home.

If you are super tired, just pull over and have a nap. Set your alarm for 10 minutes. And yeah, I'd recommend that. My other thing is to have clean sheets and a pillow that you love. Again, this sounds stupid. And as an insomniac, this might sound ridiculous to say, but if you really hate your sheets, they eat you. They're too hot, your pillows too flat, like your actual bedding. If you don't like it, you're going to bed every night with this negative mindset that, Oh, God, I should change my sheets and I've forgotten and now I'm annoyed. I'm already annoyed before I get into bed.

And the last thing is you if you work a really tiresome job and you're on your feet a lot you could get home and your feet are absolutely killing you. So this often happens to me so I do a little yoga pose that you put your back right up against the wall and you elevate your feet up against the wall for a couple of minutes and just let that blood drain from the legs. And I find that when I get into bed, my legs aren't aching and sore, as you know if I hadn't have done that.

And, lastly, from a social perspective is to you, as a shift worker, you've got to still do the things that you really love. You've got to see people and make contact with the people that make you happy. Because if you don't want to go to bed guilty and think that you might not have seen anyone, by your work colleagues in two weeks. So in your downtime, in your commute to work, call someone, make contact with the outside world, or with people that aren’t shift workers or just someone that makes you laugh, someone that makes you happy. I think that can take away the stress and sort of normalize your job.

James Swanwick: We're talking to Emma Smith from the other shift and you can find Emma and The Other Shift on @theothershift or if you just type in The Other Shift on Facebook. You can also go to I was just mentioning the Swanwick diffuser, we put a link up down below and you can have a look in the comments there as well where you can check out that diffuser, which is a great way to run some aromatherapy and to relax at the end of the day.

I remember I interviewed someone once when I was a journalist back in the day and they said, the two most important things that someone should buy are shoes and a bed, because if you're not in one, then you're in the other. I thought that was quite clever.

Emma Smith: Yeah.

James Swanwick: So in terms of a bed, how do you set up your bed at home for optimal sleep?

Emma Smith: Well, I spent a bit of money on a pillow. Previously I didn't really care about what pillow I slept on. But I saved a bit of money and I bought one. I think it was about 100 bucks but in the world of pillows, you know that's a pretty pricey one. We could get one for $20 or so and I absolutely love it and I instantly feel rested when I go to sleep.

So good pillow, good sheets. I recently bought a linen quilt and I find that really nice. It's not itchy on my neck. We changed the curtains in our bedroom to be more blackout. I took away a lot of the things in my bedroom that created noise in my head. So we were moving house so it was difficult to sleep but we had a lot of boxes and storage and maybe like clothes that needed to be put away or just like things in my room that created noise. I just cleared it all away. So it's in there. It's just a bedside table, my bed, a wardrobe, I haven't got other things around and I find that that's it's peaceful for my brain.

This isn't relevant to me, but my sister is also a shift worker and she painted her room red, and for a good six months, she had red walls, and she found that she wasn't really sleeping. So she painted it all white and she instantly felt more relaxed, particularly after a shift so that I haven't actually tried that myself. But if you do have lots of things on your walls and maybe bright, red or green or whatever the color in your bedroom is, and you're not sleeping, consider painting your walls a natural color and you might find that it's a little bit more relaxing.

I also use a book light in bed, that's an amber color book light and it's got some different settings. So if I do want to read my book, in bed, I use that rather than the big light with my Swannies. And I find that's a perfect light sort of setup for me. What else have I got? I think that might be it.

James Swanwick: Yeah. And for anyone curious what the view looks like through a pair of Daytime Swanies, I'll put these up to the camera right now. So have a look. Here we go. There we go. So when are you wearing your daytime Swannies and when are you wearing your orange lens Swannies, Emma?

Emma Smith: When I get home from a night shift, I'll put them on the minute I walk in the door. So if my shift finishes at 7:30, when I get home at midnight, they're on instantly when I get home and I keep them on pretty much until I sleep so they're the Night Swannies.

James Swanwick: Yeah, so when you're doing your night shift when you're working during the night, you're wearing Daytime Swannies. Is that right?

Emma Smith: Well, I haven't been in the land of COVID. Right now, I don't want to put extra things on the floor because we're wearing face shields right now or constantly. Because it's a hot zone. So we're wearing a full facial. This would be inappropriate to wear because I already got a mask on and a hair cover and a facial. So I haven't been wearing these on the floor. But if I have to check my emails or do something on the computer, that's when I'd wear them. So I wear my day ones if I want to be awake but I'm using my computer. That's when I wear these. If I'm trying to go to sleep, prepare my body for sleep. That's when I'd wear the orange lenses. Yeah, so if I get or maybe from a PM, shift the one that finishes at 10 o'clock at night. I put on the night orange Swannies as a minute I get home.

James Swanwick: It's in the morning as well like, say you were in a night shift 10 until six. Or sorry 9 pm until 7 am you said. What's your routine from like 7 am until you go to sleep.

Emma Smith: If I'm doing a morning shift. What's that, sorry?

James Swanwick: Yeah, you're doing a 9 pm until 7 am shift.

Emma Smith: Yeah, I mean it I get home so if I am I'd probably put them on until I go to sleep.

James Swanwick: Yep, got it. And when are you going to sleep in those circumstances?

Emma Smith: I like to sleep if I'm on a night shift and I get home at let's say eight o'clock. I like to be asleep by nine. I give myself an hour to have breakfast to end or start my routine I was speaking about before. That's when I shower, brush my teeth, have a bit of breakfast, probably read five pages of my book before I fall asleep. So for the night shift workers watching this, I like to give myself about an hour from when I get in the door to when I need to go to sleep.

It's very, very tempting as an Archie fork and not to do this because if you work with nine to five workers at home, they're starting their day. You know, the TV's probably going, the music's going, they're having breakfast, their day started. They're energetic and you just want to sleep so it's very tempting to start doing what they're doing and your routine goes out the window. Before you know it it's 11 o'clock in the morning.

So, for night shift workers just stick to the routine that you've set for yourself. Of course, if you've got kids, this might look a little bit different as well. But if you are a parent you drop your kids off at school and you come back you know and it's 9:30 then try to prioritize sleep at that point and you know try to be in bed you know within an hour because I'm sure you need a bit of rest if you've just got your kids already for school and you've done the breakfast thing and you've made lunches and like that can be pretty exhausting. But you know don't put it off until midday to go to sleep.

James Swanwick: And have you on those occasions where you have put it off until midday to go to sleep where you've been tempted and other things happen, what has been the result of that?

Emma Smith: It's a nightmare when I start nights, when I start my night shift by about three o'clock in the morning I'm absolutely exhausted, and it can compromise patient care and for the job that I'm in it can be a real safety risk. So it's just not worth it for me. And particularly for other shift workers. You know, there might be a Law Enforcement they might be using quite a dangerous machinery, like we want to be on A-game. So we can't really take risks in a lot of the jobs that we're in so you know, really having a routine is incredibly important.

James Swanwick: And how does it compromise your social life? If it does, maybe it doesn't, but when most people are working nine to five or daytime shifts, whatever they are, and not as many people are working night time shifts, how does that compromise, activities you might ordinarily choose to take?

Emma Smith: Okay, it does and you can become really upset about it. And I know when I first started working the night shift, you can get a bit down and it is very easy to fall into the rut of sleeping, eating, going to work, sleeping, eating and going to work. It's very easy to sort of get caught up in that. And not to see anyone. So the few little tips that I do is if I am doing a couple of night shifts I like to organize a dinner date or particularly it really works well if you go out for dinner with someone who you're on the same shift with. We just go down to the pub and have a meal, we might only be there for half an hour and we might be wearing our scrubs and it's probably inappropriate to wear scrubs at a pub. But anyway, we go down there and we have a nice meal and we catch up and that's a really nice way to break up your night shift and also get a bit of social life but it can be incredibly challenging.

Sometimes your friends will get upset with you and they think, yeah, she just sleeps all the time and they don't know when to call and you just get put into the too hard basket but I think for me, the ball sort of falls in my court that if I want to catch up with people then I have to be in control and call them before the shift and really make time for people in the on your days off.

James Swanwick: Do night shift workers or shift workers, for that matter, struggle with sadness or depression at any stage? Like is that more common or less common or same as anyone? Because your body's out of whack, it goes down a rabbit hole sometimes where you're like, everyone else's normal and I'm not normal because I'm doing this thing, like what's the mental health of shift workers? How are shift workers prone to their mental health being compromised, I guess?

Emma Smith: Yeah, that's interesting. Some people have a really hard time with it. And not going to sugarcoat it, some people really have a tough time adjusting to the night and social people really have a tough time. But then, you can talk to some night shift workers or people who work shift work and absolutely love it. They love it, it's quiet, they love that they can go to the supermarket and not have to line up. They love that they can sort of live a life away from peak hours.

So some people like it, but it can get you down if you don't get on the front foot and you don't organize things with your friends and you don't get enough sunshine. The sun can be a really big trigger for depression and to feel down that if you just constantly live in darkness, you work in the dark and you sleep in the dark but not getting enough vitamin D and not getting enough sun exposure can really get you down.

As a routine, I like to wake up. If I am doing a night shift, for example, I wake up at about five o'clock in the afternoon or anywhere between 3:30 and 6 depending on the day. I like to get up, I have my workout clothes at the door of my bedroom, so I have to step over it, which I can't and I get changed and go outside, enjoy some sunshine and walk outside. It's a really nice time in the afternoon to call someone during that time or if someone's home, one of your housemates gets the dog and goes for a walk. During that time, don't put that off.

When I first started night shift, I put that off and just sort of convinced myself that I didn't need to do any exercise and I'd be okay from a mental health perspective. But if you're not, you know what you need. You need a bit of sunshine and your body, that your body clock needs that little reminder that yes you are human and the sun really is good to help you sleep to kick start your gut that you can. Your digestive system can work when it senses some light, otherwise, it'll just be asleep forever and you'll find that you'll be bloated and that also doesn't help your mental health.

James Swanwick: Yeah, thank you for sharing Emma. She is wearing a pair of the daytime Swannies at the moment and proudly rocks the nighttime Swannies on occasion as well. We've mentioned a few products here from Swanwick, as well Swanwick hypnotherapy, you can get on the site, there's a link in the comments there. There's a diffuser as well which Emma also uses. There's a link to the Swanwick diffuser there in the comments. We're on our way.

Emma Smith: So I also use, while you're talking about products, before we changed our curtains, we've got some shade setup. I use the eye mask, which is absolutely gorgeous. I've tried many many eye masks before, some little, some big, with two straps, some with just one strap and I find this Swannies one is really really lovely to wear. It doesn't itch. It's beautiful. So if anyone is looking for an eye mask, it's a little bit more expensive than the ones I've tried before. And I think that's why I was hesitant originally but it's well worth the extra money. So if people are considering it, go for it.

James Swanwick: Thank you, Emma. Yeah, I wear my Swannies eye mask every single night and I find it challenging to sleep without it these days.

Emma Smith: Yeah, it's been lovely.

James Swanwick: Yeah, yeah, it actually came second in the world's best sleep mask competition in 2016 and 2017 I can't remember now but hasn't changed since then.

Emma Smith: So good for you guys.

James Swanwick: Yeah, it's 100% pure silk as well. Silk is really good for retaining moisture in your skin. So they've done studies that show that if you sleep on a silk pillowcase your visible signs of wrinkles are much lower than if you sleep on say a cotton pillow. So if you imagine people who maybe sleep on their side or on their front, there's squishing their skin into that fabric right of whatever the fabric is on their pillow slip. Because silk retains moisture, your skin, which is your body's largest organ, is going to retain that moisture and you're going to wake up feeling nice and looking nice. Whereas if you're putting your face or your skin on the cotton and you're constantly rubbing up against that for like eight hours of the night, that's going to create visible signs of aging. That's going to do a little bit of damage to your skin. Not as much damage if you go out in the Australian sunshine in the middle of December and don't put a hat on cover yourself, obviously. But yeah, some damage nonetheless.

I'm curious, other than as a shift worker do you sometimes have you do a seven to 3:30 shift, and then they'll start you again on a nine to seven shift? Are they allowed to do that? Like they will have you do a 1:30 to 10 shift and then they'll have you come in again at 7 am and then what happens if there's just a need for you to stay back late or need for you to start early because I'm sure that you know, it's constantly moving beast I would imagine.

Emma Smith: Yep, yes to all of those. We often do the classic late early shift which we do, you finish it at 10 o'clock at night and start again at seven. I am a big believer that seven to nine hours of sleep is what we want and it's actually physically impossible to get that during that shift. So that can be an incredibly challenging 24 hours for probably any nurse watching this later is no good.

Doing things like wearing this one helps to retain and probably having a shorter wind-down period when you get home is incredibly important. And really making sure that you're not having pizza for dinner or a big bowl of pasta because you just feel so bloated and you've only got a short period of time to sleep before you got to get up again. So that could be difficult from a night shift, switching back to a day shift.

We may finish at seven o'clock in the morning. And then we start again at five o'clock in the afternoon. Some nurses request that shift because I think it gets them back to normal quicker than if they would have a couple of days off and then come back to a day shift. Everyone's got their own preference for what they like to do. But yes, to answer your question, the short turnover between shifts is very common.

We do overtime and things like that, particularly in the COVID setting that we're in is very common as well. When I first started nursing, I thought, oh, overtime here, people are gonna think that I'm this amazing nurse that I've worked overtime and I don't need to sleep and or eat. And you know, I wear this hero badge because I've done over time, but I've totally changed my view on it. Sleep is so much more important than doing overtime and I know that you get the financial reward and I've definitely done over time not too long ago because we needed it and we were desperate, but if you do have a choice, and you don't have to do it, I'd recommend to just to go home and have a nice sleep and come back for your next shift. You know, if you've got to stay a couple of hours. This is the other compromise you could do that. Look, I can't do a full overtime. I can't do a double shift for example, but maybe I'll stay for four hours. That can be a nice balance and my boss often says that because we can just help relieve some bright spots. I was and then I can go home. So that could be a nice alternative for you.

James Swanwick: For someone who's not a shift worker, who maybe works sometimes from home, and they really have to get something done. And so they wait for the kids to go to sleep or they wait for the day to finish. And then you know, ordinarily, maybe they're asleep by 10-10:30 at night. But on this occasion, they've decided that they're going to take advantage of the quiet and they're going to push through until midnight, 12:30 in the morning, maybe they'll stay up a few hours later than they ordinarily would.

What would you suggest for that person in terms of should they still wake up at the same time as they would if they went to sleep at 10? So for example, if they sleep from 10 until 6:30, and they've decided this night, they're not going to go to sleep until one o'clock should they still wake up at 6:30 or should they push through until 9:30? If they have that luxury, of course of not having to.

Emma Smith:
What a nice luxury this person has, yeah. Seven to nine hours is what your body wants. This is when you can really restore and sort of reinvigorate natural body processes. So I would be pushing through and make for seven to nine hours.

James Swanwick: Okay, got it. So for anyone who would like to learn more, The Other Shift on Facebook and is where you should head. Emma, thank you so much for giving us your words of wisdom today. We so appreciate you and thank you so much for those who asked questions on Facebook and YouTube on the live recording of this. There'll be many more people who will watch a replay of this.

So if you are one of those people who are watching the replay and you do have a particular question, go ahead and type the question in and we'll make sure that we get your question answered. But for those of you who are live and asking questions, thank you so much for being here. There are some great questions. Apologies if my audio not working back the half an hour or so ago compromise the quality of this particular thing. But I think we got through Emma. I'm sure you were a professional and you're educating people on the way I'm going to watch the replay so I can pick up all the stuff that I missed out on.

Is there any final you know, advice or you know, something to round it off to people who are nightshift workers or who have up and down sleep patterns as to, you know, as to how they might live a better life while navigating those challenges?

Emma Smith: I think my big takeaway is to find a routine for yourself that works. If you've got kids, find a routine that works for you. Focus on the light and really start to think about what light source you're giving to yourself particular times during your shift. Make time for people that you love. If you want to see friends, you want to see family, make time for them. Get some time in the sun. Again, I don't know what that looks like for you. But take your dog and give them a little treat outside in the sun.

Remember that your digestive system slows overnight. This was a bit probably one of the biggest takeaways for me. So really concentrate on what you're putting in your mouth when the sun is down. Your body doesn't need too much during this time. So really focus on what you're putting in your mouth and how your body responds to that if it causes bloating, try something else.

Life as a shift worker is different from the non-traditional life but it's definitely one that is incredibly rewarding. It has its definite positive advantages. And you can live a really healthy happy life. So if you need anything and you need some personal advice, I'm really happy if you want to send me an email over at The Other Shift, my husband Daniel and I, we read every single one and we try to give some targeted unique advice for you. So yeah, thank you for watching this.

Emma Smith: Thank you very much for having me on.

James Swanwick: Yeah. Thank you for what you do. We'll talk soon

Emma Smith: Thanks, James. Bye.


Don’t let your busy schedule prevent you from optimizing your sleep quality as a shift worker. Click here to listen to this episode on the go.


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Celesté Polley


Celesté is a writer, creative photographer, bookworm, pianist, minimalist, environmentalist at heart, professional napper, and Earth wanderer from South Africa, operating in the wellness industry. She is obsessed with books, plants, the moon, and the misunderstood wild Baboon Spiders (a.k.a Tarantulas) of the arachnid world. Her curious nature has her on an unstoppable journey to work with like-minded humans, but also to help people overcome their health and mental struggles.

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