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Managing shift work with type 1 diabetes

December 22, 2021

This post is an excerpt taken from Straight to the Point: A guide for adults living with type 1 diabetes. Download the full version for free here.

Even if you don’t have type 1 diabetes (T1D), shift work can put a strain on health. There is no medical evidence indicating you shouldn’t perform shift work. However, you should be aware managing diabetes may be more difficult, especially if you’re working a rapidly changing shift pattern.

Shift work may increase your risk of high or low blood glucose levels (BGLs), even if your diabetes is well managed.

Why? It’s all due to changes in your body’s ‘circadian rhythms’ which regulate daily processes such as hunger and fatigue. When you start eating at different time, your body’s internal clock is disrupted and this can affect blood glucose control.

The good news is, shift work isn’t impossible for people living with T1D. In fact, there are many nurses, paramedics, security guard and truck drivers out there managing their T1D alongside their professional life.

There are many strategies you can use to manage shift work with type 1 diabetes. Here are a few top tips from Straight to the Point: A guide for adults living with type 1 diabetes.

Adjusting your insulin regime

Different insulin regimens, such as:

  • Taking long-acting insulin analogues at the same time once or twice a day,
  • Employing rapid-acting or short-acting insulin when you eat; and,
  • Regularly monitoring your BGLs during and after shifts

Can help reduce day-to-day fluctuations in BGLs.

It’s important you speak with your endocrinologist or diabetes team about your job so they can help create a management plan that works for you. For more information on when your insulin dose should be adjusted while doing shift work, download Straight to the Point.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet

During shift work, mealtimes are often occur at irregular times and food may not always be available when expected. This can be challenging with T1D, but careful planning can help you successfully manage your diabetes no matter what hours you work.

To keep up healthy eating while doing shift work, try to:

  • Include regular meals and regular carbohydrate intake, no matter what working hours you have. Try to eat 2-3 meals a day with some carbohydrates and spread them across the day (or night).
  • Keep a supply of carbohydrate foods nearby. If you’re working unusual hours, shops and cafeterias may not be open, so having a supply of long-lasting carbohydrate foods on hand is essential.
  • Keep up your fluids. Try to include six to eight glasses of water a day.

Schedule in some downtime

“Shift work in and of itself for any ordinary person is mentally, physically and socially demanding. It’s also a job that I love! Initially my first couple of months as a paramedic I had to not only learn about the demands of the job, but I had to learn how to manage my T1D as a paramedic to,” says Ellie-May Maguire, a paramedic and T1D advocate of over 10 years.

“It is also super important to have down time with such a demanding career, so I always make sure on my days off that I have some ‘ME’ time where all I need to worry about is me.”

Alert someone if you have concerns

Speak with your doctor or diabetes educator if you have concerns about the possible health risks associated with the demands of your current job.

If you’d like more information and practical advice on managing professional life and type 1 diabetes, download Straight to the Point: A guide for adults living with type 1 diabetes for free.

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