The Gig and Shift Workers’ Guide to Staying on Top of Your Health

Are erratic schedules and long hours taking a toll on your sleep or medication schedule? We’ve got solutions

Being an independent contractor has a lot of benefits, like the ability to work more to make more when needed. But gig work or shift work can often impact our regular schedules. Our sleep hours can change from day to day, and we may eat at irregular times—often on the go. When we interrupt routine, we then miss out on certain self-care cues. If you’re supposed to take a prescription medication first thing in the morning with breakfast, for example, you might forget on days when morning turns into bedtime.

But taking care of ourselves is just as important as logging work hours. If we don’t feel our best, it impacts our ability to do our jobs. Here are some ways to stay on top of health needs while still taking on ample gig and shift work.

Securing uninterrupted sleep hours

If you find yourself needing to work late at night and sleeping during the day, getting those ZZZZ’s can be a challenge. Delivery drivers drop off packages, construction and street noise blares, and the sun blazes through your window. So what can you do?

Block out the world with a white-noise machine. Or search for a phone app that will produce a similar result. Noise-canceling headphones may also be an option. To block out light, invest in blackout curtains or shades. A comfy sleep mask can also do the trick.

To avoid interruptions, use the do-not-disturb function on your phone. You can always set it to allow for specific contacts to be able to reach you in an emergency. If you have family members or roommates who are at home during the day, remind them that a closed door means you’re sleeping. Ask them to be respectful of your needs.

If possible, have deliveries sent to an alternative location. You can rent a P.O. box for USPS mail items, and you can often have FedEx parcels sent to your local Walgreens. Sending packages to a trusted neighbor or a nearby relative may also work for you.

Remembering your medications

If you take prescription medications to manage a medical condition, taking them as directed is important. But regular dosing can get tricky if you’re away from home at different times each day or have several meds to remember. Some pharmacies now offer services to individually package pills by dose according to date and time. Or you can also use an online pharmacy such as PillPack to do this for you. That way you’ll have all the pills you need at one time in one easy-to-transport pack. Then you can program phone apps or alarms to remind you to take your meds. The more you can simplify the process, the more likely you are to adhere to prescribed medication schedules that help you stay healthy.

Taking care of your body

As with any job, gig work and shift work can lead to aches and pains. Those who drive might notice back or shoulder stiffness. Hospitality or food service workers might develop soreness in their feet or neck and shoulders. Check in with your body regularly and see how you’re feeling. Some aches will come and go, but if pain persists, get it checked out as soon as possible to avoid further issues. Your doctor may have solutions such as custom foot orthotics or strengthening and stretching exercises that can help.

In addition to sleep, physical exercise is one of the most important things you can do to preserve and boost overall health and well-being. But finding the time to fit in a workout when you have a varying schedule is sometimes easier said than done. Keep it simple and find an activity you enjoy, whether that’s jogging with your dog, indoor cycling, or lifting at the gym. Even if your schedule changes wildly from one day to the next, try to incorporate a habit of getting in a workout a few days a week. Before long, your body will come to expect it.