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Quick Tips: Diabetes and Shift Work

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Managing diabetes is all about setting a healthy routine of medicine, eating, exercise, and sleep. But when you work night shifts or have changing work shifts, it can seem like there's nothing routine about your life. It's more of a chore to manage diabetes under such conditions, but it can be done. These tips may help.

  • Make a plan.
    • Talk to your doctor, registered dietitian, or diabetes educator. They will help you make a plan for how to manage your shift work.
    • Tell your employer that you have diabetes, and share your plan. Ask for regular breaks, a place to store and take your insulin or other medicine, and a place to rest when you need it. The American Diabetes Association offers counseling to help you learn your rights on the job.
  • Get organized.

    Have a backpack, briefcase, or large purse that always contains your at-work essentials, such as:

    • Your blood sugar meter and supplies.
    • Medicines.
    • Planned snacks and emergency snacks.
    • A water bottle.
    • Lunch.
    • An ice pack, if you don't have access to a refrigerator.
  • Manage your blood sugar.
    • Test your blood sugar every couple of hours. Working night shifts or constantly changing shifts can affect your blood sugar in ways that may surprise you.
    • Measure your blood sugar before you go to sleep. This is especially important if your sleep time changes.
    • Keep a detailed record of your blood sugar readings, medicine doses, exercise, and sleep. This will help you and your doctor see patterns and make plans to deal with them.
    • If you take insulin, think about using an insulin pump.
  • Plan your meals and snacks.
    • Try planning a week's worth of at-work lunches at a time. This can help you avoid the snack machine or nearby fast food restaurants.
    • If you're often too tired to make dinner after work, keep healthy, ready-to-eat snacks on hand. Some ideas include hard-boiled eggs with dried fruit, cheese sticks with whole grain crackers, and carrots and hummus.
    • Some jobs make it hard to take a snack break. Keep something in your pocket, like a small bag of dried fruit or unsalted nuts or a fruit-and-nut bar.
  • Keep up your exercise.

    It may be harder to keep up your regular exercise routine when you work nights or your shift keeps changing.

    • Find a way to make exercise part of your routine. Set some goals. Take the time to think about what's getting in the way of your success and what you can do to get around those barriers.
    • Take a walk during your breaks at work. If you work at a desk, do stretches in front of your computer.
    • Use your commute to do some extra walking. Park several blocks away, or get off the bus a few stops early.
  • Get enough sleep.
    • Avoid caffeine drinks at least 6 hours before bedtime.
    • Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime. But a light snack may help you sleep. Ask your doctor if you should snack before sleep.
    • Be aware of a problem called shift work sleep disorder. If you have trouble sleeping because of your work shift, talk to your doctor.

Credits

Current as of: December 2, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator