Staying healthy when working shifts

To keep the healthcare system working efficiently and providing the best possible care, the majority of healthcare professionals work varied shifts. Looking after patients requires 24-hours a day care, so the 9-5 is a distant thought for most.  


How do you cope with shift work? It can be tricky if you have a family that needs the usual feeding, school runs and your time for relaxation and personal enjoyment after sorting out any domestic problems. There are a variety of options to fit your lifestyle.  


Flexible working as locum 

For many, locum work can be the answer to taking control of your schedule. However, others find it difficult to chop and change jobs whilst juggling a professional career with family life.  


Flexible working hours mean that clear communication is needed between you and your employer. Get a complete description of exactly what your provider is asking for and what you are prepared to adhere to. It is important for locums, as unclear hours and conditions can cause a great deal of stress or anxiety worrying whether you can fit everything in. Obtain a contract, ‘dot the i’s and cross the t’s’ to make sure that your schedule is completely clear to both you and your employer. 


Benefits of Flexible Working 

Flexible working as locum can be the ideal solution for some healthcare professionals as having more control over your schedule can lead to: 

  • Personal time with your family and friends, or for you to relax and enjoy life, including exercise, sport, yoga etc.
  • Decreasing the chance of burnout both physically and mentally. This can increase your own productivity, in and out of work. 
  • More job satisfaction, renewed energy and enthusiasm. 
  • Ability to arrange hours to suit family commitments (no more missing school plays or sports days!) 
  • If your partner is a shift worker, you can arrange your hours around that to cover your own childcare. 
  • More chance of holidays when you want them to be and less likely to cancel.  


Keeping healthy 

One of the most important factors if you do flexible hours or work shifts is to keep yourself healthy and as fit as possible. The hardest part is getting used to the change in hours that you work, unless you can cluster shifts together to ensure that your body clock, or circadian rhythm can have a chance to recover. 


Take time for yourself, eat and drink sensibly, spend time with the family and try to exercise to clear your mind and help your physical health at the same time. Flexible working hours mean that both you and your employer have to agree 100% on those hours. Depending on your set up, it can be advantageous, as long as you get a complete description of exactly what your provider is asking for and what you are prepared to adhere to. 


Night shifts 

Within the healthcare profession, some people choose to work the night shift routine. For locums, night shifts offer higher rates and can be good option if it does not create any problems with your health or home life. 


There are some simple rules you need to lay down for yourself, so that working nights can be beneficial. Clustering night shifts together is the best way to work. Other points for staying healthy are: 

  • Stick to a routine and plan self-care activities such as exercise. 
  • Make sure your household are all in agreement and support the schedule. 
  • Stick your timetable (for work, relaxation and sleep) on the fridge or noticeboard as a reminder for all. 
  • Make sure you organise one family meal/activity more or less daily (that is essential for regrouping as a unit). 
  • Prioritise sleep and good sleep ‘hygiene’, i.e., regular schedule, an environment that encourages you to sleep, free from noise and too much light – anything that suits you to go to sleep.
  • Consume healthy and not too heavy foods, so that your metabolism does not suffer. Staying hydrated at all times is also important. 
  • Can you nap at work? It is a good thing to do for say, half an hour if your workplace permits. 

Night shifts can work for you, and you can stay healthy with a bit of organisation and effort.  


As part of the regrouping structure currently under review with the NHS, there is a strong movement to apply flexible working on a larger scale for healthcare staff. 


“The NHS needs more people, working differently…in a compassionate and inclusive culture by building on the motivation at the heart of our NHS to look after and value our people, create a sense of belonging and promote a more inclusive service and workplace so that our people will want to stay.” 



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