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the shift workers guide
Hormone imbalance may explain higher diabetes rates in sleep-deprived men

Studies have found an association between insufficient sleep and the development of insulin resistance, one of the factors that cause type 2 diabetes, and now researchers have discovered a biological reason for this relationship, at least in men: an imbalance between their testosterone and cortisol hormones. Insulin resistance occurs when the body does not properly use the hormone insulin. Testosterone is the main anabolic, or muscle-building, hormone, whereas cortisol -- often called the "stress hormone" -- helps catabolism, or breaking down energy and fat stores for use. Past research shows that sleep loss reduces a man's testosterone levels and increases cortisol levels
"Maintaining hormonal balance could prevent metabolic ill health occurring in individuals who do not get enough sleep," he said. "Understanding these hormonal mechanisms could lead to new treatments or strategies to prevent insulin resistance due to insufficient sleep."

Link to the full research article here
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Can you tell the difference between the smarm and the charm?
Research says that when you’re tired… not so much

University of Arizona's William D.S. Killgore, a professor of psychiatry, psychology and medical imaging has done some interesting research on whether we can make the correct decision about whether someone else is happy or sad by their facial expressions. If we are tired we make mistakes.

"As a society, we don't get the full seven to eight hours of sleep that people probably need to be getting. The average American is getting a little less than six hours of sleep on average, and it could affect how you're reading people in everyday interactions," Killgore said. "You may be responding inappropriately to somebody that you just don't read correctly, especially those social emotions that make us human. Or you may not be as empathic. Your spouse or significant other may need something from you and you're less able to read that. It's possible that this could lead to problems in your relationships or problems at work. To me, that is one of the biggest problems -- how this affects our relationships."

Follow this link for the full report
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The Anatomy of My Caffeine Crash
I’ve just come off a brutal set of evenings and nights. I'm not sure what's worse, the shifts I just worked or the caffeine crash I am experiencing…

Internet search tip:
When looking for information on caffeine be aware that some sites, incorrectly, use coffee and caffeine interchangeably. For example there are sites that state caffeine helps prevent type 2 diabetes when in actuality the research shows that it may be coffee that holds this health benefit (a cup of decaf has the same benefit).
Caffeine is the most commonly used, legal psychoactive substance worldwide (1). Caffeine is found in nature in the plants of coffee, tea, cocoa, and kola. It is also manufactured and added to some carbonated drinks and drugs. Examples include over the counter cold medications (1).
What Caffeine does in your body
There are some complex, well-documented chemical reactions that occur after ingesting caffeine. If one does not have an affinity for physiology and words like adenosine, dopamine, nor-epinephrine, epinephrine and the effects these neurotransmitters have on the body it can be excellent bedtime reading. Simply put, caffeine prepares our bodies to react to stressful threatening situations - it produces a flight or fight response. It increases our heart rate to allow for more blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body. It allows for clearer more focused thinking. (2)
(Did you know??)
Fish and amphibians don't get that caffeine buzz as they don't respond to some of those neurotransmitters. They also lack sympathetic nerves in their hearts. (2)

The Good…
Several research studies make public the health benefits of caffeine:
It increases alertness and reduces fatigue. This may be especially important in low arousal situations (e.g. working at night). - Caffeine improves performance on vigilance tasks and simple tasks that require sustained response. Again, these effects are often clearest when alertness is reduced, although there is evidence that benefits may still occur when the person is unimpaired. Effects on more complex tasks are difficult to assess and probably involve interactions between the caffeine and other variables, which increase alertness (e.g. personality and time of day). In contrast to the effects of caffeine consumption, withdrawal of caffeine has few effects on performance. There is often an increase in negative mood following withdrawal of caffeine, but such effects may largely reflect the expectancies of the volunteers and the failure to conduct “blind” studies. Regular caffeine usage appears to be beneficial, with higher users having better mental functioning. Most people are very good at controlling their caffeine consumption to maximize the above positive effects. For example, the pattern of consumption over the day shows that caffeine is often consumed to increase alertness. In contrast to effects found from normal caffeine intake, there are reports that have demonstrated negative effects when very large amounts are given or sensitive groups (e.g. patients with anxiety disorders) were studied. (3)

too much coffee
In contrast to effects found from normal caffeine intake, there are reported negative effects when very large amounts are ingested. In this context caffeine has been shown to increase anxiety and impair sleep. There is also some evidence that fine motor control may be impaired as a function of the increase in anxiety. Overall, the global picture that emerges depends on whether one focuses on effects that are likely to be present when the majority of the population consumes caffeine in moderation or on the effects found in extreme conditions. The evidence clearly shows that levels of caffeine consumed by most people have largely positive effects on behavior. Excessive consumption can lead to problems, especially in sensitive individuals. (4)
The Ugly…
Overall, caffeine intoxication requires the consumption of as little as 250mg and can lead to insomnia, muscle twitching, gastrointestinal disturbance, anxiousness, and incoherent speech or thoughts. Excess consumption becomes very dangerous, as symptoms can potentially escalate to cardiac arrest. This risk increases for avid caffeine drinkers, who reach intoxication on a regular basis. The best way to avoid these risks is to limit or eliminate caffeine consumption entirely from your diet.
But as Shift Workers this is not likely going to happen. On average, North American caffeine consumers drink about 280mg daily. It only takes a daily consumption of 100mg to experience physical dependence on the substance. To put these numbers into perspective, a medium coffee from Tim Horton’s contains roughly 140mg of caffeine. Unfortunately, as with any stimulant, there comes a time when coffee is not enough to induce a stimulatory effect.
Be careful when you’re filling up your cup.
(1) McGuinness, Teena, 2011
(2) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-does-caffeine-affect
(3) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/02786915/40/9
(4) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691502000960

How to Overcome a Less Than Ideal Schedule
the shift workers guide
I have been working shift work for most of my adult life, having worked as a police officer for eleven years and now as a firefighter and rescue technician. I will be the first person to admit that I am extremely jealous of anyone who works a regular dayshift and gets to sleep every night in his or her own bed. If you’ve never experienced sleep deprivation or a disrupted sleep pattern, consider yourself lucky. Not only do these disruptions interfere with your “regular” life, they can especially play havoc on your “training” life. Have you ever seen the Navy Seal candidates take part in their sleep deprivation training? They can barely add 2 + 2 when they are deprived of sleep!
The current shift pattern that I am working at the fire department consists of 42-hour workweeks that are broken up into three blocks:
• Four 10-hour dayshifts
• Three 14-hour nightshifts
• One “long shift,” which is 86 hours worked in six days

The “long shift” consists of working 10-hour dayshifts on Friday and Saturday, a 24-hour shift on Sunday, and return ten hours after working a 24-hour shift to work three 14-hour nightshifts on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. If anyone has any ideas on how to implement some quality powerlifting training into this week it would be greatly appreciated!

I always get comments from people that state, “It must be nice to go to work and get to sleep while your work” so I am going to address this with an analogy that hopefully everyone can understand.
I invite you to come over to my place and I will set up a cot in my basement for you to sleep on. I’ll make sure there’s lots of white noise so you can get a quality sleep (several grown men snoring, burping and farting) so it’s realistic. Every two hours I’m going to blow an air horn in your ear and wake you up. You must get up, get dressed and be in your car ready to go in one minute (but you don’t have to drive, I’ll drive… because I’m such a nice guy).

We’re going to drive really fast with the radio blasting, the interior lights on, and we’re going to an apartment building where you get to put on a 50-pound backpack, grab a 12-pound sledgehammer and run up several flights of stairs. (I won’t make you do anything this time, because it’s a false alarm).
We’re going to drive back home and you get to go back to bed for some “quality sleep” and we can continue this routine for the remainder of the night. Then when you get up in the morning for shift change and your eyes are bloodshot, your thoughts are scrambled and you’re trying to figure out where you are and what’s going on, I’m going to say to you “must be nice going to work and sleep all night!”
I think you get the picture.

I will argue that sleep is the most important factor to address in order to be able to train optimally and also to keep you healthy, both mentally and physically. Sleep regulates a cascade of hormone and neurotransmitter functions that keeps your body functioning properly. If you don’t believe that sleep isn’t one of the most important factors in your training, try to sleep a few nights a week for only two or three hours and see how you feel, look, and perform. I’d bet your training intensity and performance will suffer dearly, as well as a reduction in your cognitive function and mental clarity. Sleep is only one of the factors that influence your ability to train properly. What about nutrition? What about recovery? What about stress? What about other commitments? Family? One thing is certain: if you don’t get proper sleep, your recovery will not be optimal and your body will be stressed from lack of sleep.

How is it possible to try and train optimally while working these types of shifts?
You can’t!

One of the first things to do is to try your best to sleep as much as you can after you get home from your shift. It is essential to have your room completely “blacked out” so there is no light whatsoever getting in. Unplug or blackout any alarm clock lights, computer lights, cell phone lights, etc.

EVERY cell in your body responds to light. Your body is so sensitive to light that universities have done sleep studies to measure hormone responses to light and had a test subject lie in a completely blacked out room. They shone a small light (about the size of a quarter) on the back of the knee and found that it disrupted normal hormonal patterns. Once again, EVERY cell in your body responds to light. If you wear a sleep mask to keep the light out while you sleep, it doesn’t work if any of your skin is exposed to light!

I have to advise anyone working shift work that it is pretty much impossible to follow any specific training program to a tee while working crazy shifts. In all likelihood you will have to modify any training program to fit to your schedule and you have to be willing to adapt and be flexible.

Flexibility is key to your training!

I had the opportunity to speak with Matt Rhodes at the last elitefts Powerlifting Experience and we spoke about training, recovery and aging. Matt is a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Albany. Matt drilled into my head that training is about “quality not quantity” and when you realize you can have two “quality” training sessions a week versus four “average” training sessions, you’ll recover better and progress much better and get stronger with two. You have to be flexible enough to miss a training session or two and not feel guilty about it or try to catch up on any sessions you’ve missed.

There are weeks in my training when I get three to four great training sessions per week and there are other weeks I might get two. There are also weeks (during the dreaded long shift) that might be simple active recovery training or just some simple mobility or stretching work. If I try to lift heavy when I’m exhausted, I’ll only be disappointed and get frustrated because it didn’t go well. Don’t sweat the small stuff!

You have to be realistic.

Shift work is not an optimal environment to train in, let alone trying to plan your training because your work environment it dynamic. Training will never be perfect. If your body is stressed already because of lack of sleep, do you really think it will be advantageous to push even harder when you’re already in a weakened and less than optimal state? You need to start relying on your instinct about how you feel and make decisions from there. Dave Tate emphasizes how difficult it is for people to train smart. I believe the first step to training smart is realizing you can’t train on a specific schedule when you work shift work and once you accept that, you can adjust and adapt. It’s hard to put your ego on the back burner and do what’s right.

I’m no spring chicken and I don’t claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer but I have realized I can’t train and recover properly without focusing on proper sleep, nutrition and recovery. If I feel “off”, I have no issue taking a day, or two, or three off to step back, take a look at the big picture and continue to get stronger and reach my powerlifting goals.

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Ken is a full time Firefighter and Rescue Technician with Oshawa Fire and is a Certified Kettlebell Coach and WKC Master Kettlebell Trainer. Ken has competed and won several Kettlebell Sport competitions throughout North America as well as winning the National Championship at the 2012 Firefit Combat Challenge. Ken is an Elite powerlifter and has won his division in two Canadian National Championships and won Gold at the WPC World Powerlifting Championships. His current best lifts in competition are an 848 lb squat (see above pic), a 535 lb bench and a 705 lb deadlift. Ken has set all the Canadian National records in his powerlifting division.

You may contact Ken via his article page at
Driving Fatigued — A Dangerous Shift Work Reality
driving fatigued Adrian Howell Photography
Imagine this:
You get on the highway. Traffic’s not too bad at first, as you are going against the morning rush. You look over at the westbound traffic and you feel grateful to not be one of “those people” who have to get up every day and do the monotonous 9-5. As the sun starts to rise, traffic slows (nothing like that glare of the new day’s sun to impede your commute). As you start to slow down you realize your body has just done the equivalent of saying “goodnight” ….

You are coming off of your last of 4 insanely busy night shifts. You get in your car and start the long drive out of the city towards home. You replay a bit of your night (this is now you quadruple check that you haven’t forgotten to tell the on-coming shift anything important that they may not be able to figure out themselves). You get on the highway. Traffic’s not too bad at first, as you are going against the morning rush. You look over at the westbound traffic and you feel grateful to not be one of “those people” who have to get up every day and do the monotonous 9-5. You look forward to your 5 days off. As the sun starts to rise, traffic slows (nothing like that glare of the new day’s sun to impede your commute). As you start to slow down you realize your body has just done the equivalent of saying “goodnight” ….
…and your eyes start to get even heavier than they were before you started your drive. You roll down your window (yup, even in minus 30 weather). The crisp air and the few deep breaths you take gives you a little more focus. You realize you need to keep moving – you look for the next off ramp and start a mental map of an alternate route - what might be your best bet for traffic that will keep moving? It doesn’t look too bad ahead. This is the fastest way home. And home, is where your bed is. So you stay the course. A few moments pass and you realize you don’t remember merging onto the connecting highway. You actually don’t remember the last few exits. Autopilot. You crank your radio up and reposition slightly in your seat. You find a song you know and give the saddest attempt to sit up right and sing along, tapping your fingers on the steering wheel.
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There’s that sun again. The brightness of the sun and your squinting to see past it makes your heavy eyelids feel that much heavier. A rumbling under the wheels of the car jolts you. Did they make that shoulder wider? You pull back into your lane and keep going. You reach in your bag and pull out an apple – fondly recalling the conversation with a friend at work who suggested you try this. They too have a lengthy drive home and an apple worked for them. Now, you don’t go into a night shift without your morning driving apple.
The 5 minutes you take to eat your apple takes you to the last stretch of your drive to bed – I mean home. Farm fields as far as you can see. Why is everyone in such a rush? That’s the 3rd car that has passed you on a single lane roadway. You look down and realize you’re driving well below the speed limit. Well, that won’t get us home any faster! As you attempt to depress the gas pedal you realize that your muscles have thrown in the towel as well. You must now focus intently on applying the needed pressure to keep a consistent and appropriate speed going. You perch your elbow on the opened window’s edge and rest your head on your hand – eyelids forced open by your fingertips. This can’t be safe. Does this happen to everyone coming off of nights you wonder? You get a little more energy as you near the finish line and turn down your street. You pull into your garage. Home. Family. Bed. The fear melts away. You sit back for the first time since your drive began. You are startled by someone knocking on your window. You look down at the clock. 2 hours have passed since you pulled in. It’s your significant other wanting to know why you didn’t come in and go to bed instead of sleeping in your car.
Sound familiar? As you read further, you’ll see that this scenario touches on almost all of the signs of driver’s fatigue. Shift work counted as one of the many reasons that people drive fatigued. Very dangerous both for the driver as well as other drivers and pedestrians – but a scary reality to many night shift workers.

The difference between driver’s fatigue and drowsy driving

Fatigued Driving: fatigued driving refers to a “disinclination to continue performing the driving task at hand”. It can occur as a result of the monotony or repetitiveness of either the driving task or the driving environment, or can occur after driving for extended periods without a rest or break.
Drowsy Driving: drowsy driving is a function of the human body’s natural circadian rhythm or “sleep-wake” cycle, meaning that most people feel sleepy twice a day – at night and in the afternoon. Drivers that operate a vehicle at these times are more likely to feel drowsy.
These definitions were taken from the
Traffic Injury Research Foundation. (Traffic Injury Research Foundation). Using these definitions, shift workers can be affected by both fatigued and drowsy driving. Since a shift worker’s circadian rhythm is altered, the times of the day when shift workers feel their sleepiest are not the same as someone who doesn’t work shift work.
How often does this happen?
“Shift worker are more likely than those who work a regular day time schedule to drive to or from work drowsy at least a few days a month (36% vs. 25%)”. (Transport Canada).
Unfortunately, statistics in North America are inconsistent between states and provinces. There is no way to quantify fatigue the way we can for blood alcohol level. As well, drivers are not willing to admit their fault in an accident when driving fatigued or drowsy. The National Highway TSA, in America, conservatively estimates that driving fatigued causes approximately 100, 000 crashes, 1,550 deaths and 71, 000 injuries a year. Australia, England, Finland and Europe collect more consistent data and among them have determined that between 10%-30% of crashes are due to drowsy driving.
“It is estimated that about 20% of fatal collisions involve driver fatigue.”(CCMTA, 2010)
A 2007 survey found that about 60% of Canadian drivers admitted that they occasionally drove while fatigued and 15% of respondents admitted that they had fallen asleep while driving during the past year (Vanlaar et al., 2008). (Transport Canada).
Another survey shows:
An alarming 20 percent of Canadians admit to falling asleep at the wheel at least once over the last year. Studies also suggest fatigue is a factor in about 15 percent of motor vehicle collisions, resulting in about 400 deaths and 2,100 serious injuries every year. (
Canada Safety Council).
Decreased sleep correlates with increased accidents
The same people who would never drive impaired by a substance; will not think twice about getting into a vehicle while fatigued. Police cannot lay charges for fatigue impairment (Canada Safety Council). TIRF indicates that charges laid against fatigued drivers include dangerous driving; criminal negligence or impaired driving. The State of New Jersey is the only place in North America that has law for fatigued driving. It is called Maggie’s law and was instituted after a teenager was killed by a driver who had been awake for over 24 hours. A driver causing a fatality in an MVC after not sleeping for 24 hours in the state of New Jersey, can be charged with vehicular homicide.

Warning signs of fatigue include:

• Blinking or yawning frequently
• Closing eyes for a moment or going out of focus
• Having wandering or disconnected thoughts
• Realizing that you have slowed down unintentionally
• Braking too late
• Not being able to remember driving the last few kilometres
• Drifting over the center line onto the other side of the road
Transportation Canada)

What’s being done?
So, we know fatigued driving is a problem, and working shift work makes it more likely that you may drive fatigued and/or drowsy. So what is being done? In Canada there are signs reminding drivers that “Drowsy Driving Causes Crashes” or “Drowsy Drivers Next Exit 5 Kilometres”. There are devices that measure eyelid closures, head nodding, and lane deviations and attempt to warn the driver – however, these have not been proven effective yet. Sadly, these are the only things that could be found prior to publishing this article.

Driving safely after night shift
So, what do we do? Give up shift-work? Don’t work nights? Advocate for sleeping areas in all shift working jobs?
To manage fatigue, drivers can consider doing the following:

• Sleep well prior to long road trips
• Share the driving with other passengers
• Take regular rest stops every couple of hours and do some exercise
• Eat light meals or fruit throughout the journey and drink water;
• If one feels tired during the trip, a nap of twenty to forty minutes is an effective way of reducing sleepiness (
Transportation Canada).

I particularly find the first suggestion unobtainable by certain professions. Whether it is back to back traumas, that 3rd alarm fire, the unexpected rave gone wrong or the last stretch of your long haul as a truck driver, there are a plethora of situations that ensure you will not get a break or sleep well prior to your drive home; especially if you have to get home to start your other shift as a parent. There is no easy answer. Some people I know will stay back and rest a few moments with their head on a table. Carpooling may help, however, if you are all on the same schedule you may be playing hot potato with who’s going to be the fatigued driver. Public transit is an option – but don’t be surprised if you miss your stop.
We would love to hear and share your tips and suggestions on what you do to safety make it home after night-shifts.

Catherine Johnson (Shift Worker)

Photo: The Shift Worker’s Head Nod —
Adrian Howell Photography (Shift Worker)

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