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Real Health Podcast: How to work night shifts and stay healthy 

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Emergency paramedic Debbie O'Reilly on the Real Health Podcast

Emergency paramedic Debbie O'Reilly on the Real Health Podcast

Emergency paramedic Debbie O'Reilly on the Real Health Podcast

Shift work and good health don't seem to go hand in hand.

Working late night shifts is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, as well as metabolic problems, heart disease, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems and obesity. So not good.

But shift work is also essential for economy and invaluable to our lives.

Former competitive athlete Debbie O’Reilly has worked as an emergency paramedic for nine years and says it is possible to stay healthy - it just takes forward planning and a few 'cheat treats'.

Debbie previously appeared in RTE series Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week and says the biggest challenge shift workers face is regulating their sleeping pattern.

"There are pros and cons to the job, I thoroughly love my job, I can't see myself doing anything else. It is an extremely challenging but rewarding," she told Karl Henry on the Real Health Podcast.

"The biggest thing is the sleeping patterns and anyone who does shift work is going to struggle with sleep. Shift workers sleep less than six hours a night during their working week, the optimum hours are 7-9 hours a night. Two thirds of those experience issues with sleep and they experience tiredness during the day."

Debbie advises making small changes to increase your quality of sleep. "Wear a pair of sunglasses or dark shades on the way home," she said.

"And black out blinds increase the quality of sleep, this is evidence based research not just a holistic approach. So try and minimize light exposure," she said.

Debbie also recommends getting into a regular sleep routine; a pattern of behavior that helps you unwind after a stressful shift.

"You might have had a particularly traumatic incident - it may be a good idea to listen to music, or have a warm soothing decaffeinated drink. You might even take a bath, nothing too strenuous on the body, I wouldn't recommend partaking in exercise before going to sleep. You don't want anything too stimulating for the brain."

It's also advisable to have a light meal before hitting the hay to ensure you sleep soundly throughout the night. "Your body burns calories trying to stay warm [when you work nights] so a big thing is to try and eat something small before you go to bed. You will sleep longer and you won' wake up. "

Preparation is also key. Batch cook meals at the start of the week; this way you will have nutrient rich meals on hand instead of opting for microwave meals.

"Try and make meals that are low glycemic to regulate sugar levels during the day," Debbie said. "That's a big thing - to keep the blood sugar levels as regular throughout the day so you are not having spike in sugar levels."

Staying hydrated is also of paramount importance when working late shifts. "Drink until your pee is a pale yellow and know that one hour of vigorous exercise will lead to fluid loss. If you thirsty you are 1pc dehydrated. Drink out of a palatable cup - you are more likely to drink out of it," Debbie said.

Also afford yourself a few treats. "If i want a little bit of chocolate I will have a bit of chocolate. I eat chocolate every single day with a cup of tea. If I didn't life wouldn't be worth living," she joked.

Keep sending your questions in to me via email realhealth@independent.ie or contact Karl on Twitter and Instagram @karlhenryPT.

For more episodes and information from the Real Health podcast you can also go to: https://www.independent.ie/podcasts/the-real-health-podcast/

The Real Health podcast with Karl Henry in association with Laya Healthcare.

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