Diabetes and Working Night Shifts – by the Cornflake Traveller
I have noticed when I travel large distances my blood sugars are affected; I usually have more hypos and the amount of insulin I need changes dramatically, with the changes being more severe the bigger the difference between time zones. A few years back I had a surprising experience when, to save up money for one of my cycling trips, I worked a night-shift stacking fruit and veg in a well-known but not very good supermarket. My shifts started at 10pm and finished at 7am with hours and hours of soul-destroying, mind-numbing box shifting in between.
The first night passed without any issues. After the shift I slept and then began adjusting to eating at different times with a mid-afternoon breakfast, dinner time lunch and then a big plate of pasta about 9pm. Just after midnight while moving crates of fresh produce I started to feel weak, confused and really disorientated to the point where I didn’t really know where I was. Luckily I have trained myself to always seek sugar in situations like these so I went to the staff canteen and sat there eating cupfuls of sugar. It was one of the worst hypos I remember in terms of the effect it had on my perception, so I was extremely keen to come out of the other end and ended up eating the equivalent to about 600ml of the granulated grains.
Eventually my brain started functioning properly again and I rushed back to work hoping nobody would have noticed my absence. Half an hour later I tested my blood sugar thinking that with all I had eaten I would be as high as a kite, but my sugar level was 8.3. I had some food about 3am without injecting but still had another, less severe hypo an hour after that and it was not until after 6am did my sugar rise above 10mmol/l and I needed to inject.
The next evening I didn’t inject before my 9pm meal but still went hypo just after midnight, although again much less severe than the previous night, and I only required a few units of insulin for the whole shift. By the middle of my second week my body had adjusted to my new nocturnal living and my insulin requirements returned to normal.
I’m sure some of you are thinking that it was the physical labour that caused me to burn off so much sugar and therefore cause my hypos but I do not believe this to be true. This was by far the most significant effect on my insulin requirements in all of my experiences in life and I have done things like cycle 80 miles a day carrying 30kg of equipment or worked 12 hour shifts moving stacks of wood, none of which caused anything like this dramatic change.
Taking into account this event and what I have learnt from my travels it seems to be the change in the hours that I am awake/asleep that effects my insulin requirement and it also seems that as my body adjusts to these new hours I am able to return to more normal insulin doses.
This was one of the most surprising incidents of my diabetic career. I’m not sure if this is something other diabetics have found, but I would urge you to test your blood sugars more frequently if you cross a number of time zones or you get a new nocturnal job and please let me know if you can shed some light on what happened to me.