Constipated Shift Worker? 8 Ways to Loosen Things Up

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Have you ever been heading to your shift, when abruptly you’re hit with severe cramping in your abdominal region? When working nights, are you feeling extra heavy or bloated? These are common symptoms for some shift workers and you could be suffering from a form of constipation. So, what are some ways to loosen things up?

To manage constipation; try different sitting positions, adding fiber, eliminating dairy, exercising regularly, taking probiotics, drinking water, having prunes and other vegetables, and going regularly. If these don’t help, consider seeking medical attention.

Constipation is defined by WebMd as: “your bowel movements are tough or happen less often than normal”. Shift work is already a struggle and a half on its own at times, but when you add constipation in the mix it can make for a terrible work shift. The signs of constipation are fairly easy to identify, however, managing the constipation is a separate monster.

Take a more in-depth dive with us, as we look into the ways we can achieve a healthier gut and make your restroom stop much less challenging.

1. Find Your Position on the Toilet

When going to use the restroom, one thing most people do not think about is the position of your body while sitting on the toilet. The way that you sit on the toilet can play a huge role in relieving constipation.

These days we typically find ourselves hunched over and playing on our phone – all in the wrong position.

The first thing we suggest making sure your knees are at a position that is higher than your hips. Doing this puts you in a more squatting-like position rather than a sitting position.

People in regions such as Africa or Asia, choose not to sit on the toilet at all and opt to squat above the toilet – making it feel like a more natural process.

Why is sitting less natural than just squatting? Because, when you are sitting on the toilet – your body is positioned in a way that can cause your colon and rectum to experience a “kink” in its flow and keeps the stool from coming out. Keeping your body in a more squatted position prevents such kinks.

You may be thinking, what can I prop my feet on, and honestly that can be endless.

When it comes to sitting in a proper position, we recommend buying a Squatty Potty OR something Squatty Potty adjacent (not name-brand). He’s one from Amazon you might like.

These are stools with a height great enough to lift your legs above the hips, which has proven to be the optimum position. The purpose is to straighten out your colon and allow for a better flow! Squatty Potty officials say: “Squatty Potty may facilitate posture that is conducive for a healthy bowel movement which is likely to improve symptoms of constipation and hemorrhoids.”

If you are unable to purchase a Squatty Potty or find yourself in a sticky situation before you can purchase one – there are alternatives. You can use a step stool, and if you don’t have a step stool go ahead and flip over an empty bin that is in the bathroom and use it! Just be careful to not put too much pressure on it – not everything is built for the weight of our legs!

You may laugh at this suggestion, but do not take this lightly. Finding the right position can lead to a healthier lifestyle. You are allowing gravity to run its course and do the work! Sitting in the proper position takes the unnecessary strain off of your bowels too, which you should be excited about, as something like Hemorrhoids can be a whole new level of pain to experience.

Image found via this link

2. Eat More Fiber

Concerned about your gut health? Add fiber to your diet!

Consuming a lot of fiber has generally gotten a bad reputation since our bodies have trouble digesting it. However, it could assist in helping you go!

Studies have shown that women need to consume around 25 grams of fiber daily and men around 30 grams. (source) Adding fiber to your diet leads to a happier and healthier gut.

There are two types of fibers that we should be consuming to promote a healthier gut – soluble and insoluble.

  • Good sources of soluble fibre include fruits, vegetables, oat bran, barley, flaxseed, dried beans, lentils, peas, soy milk and soy products.
  • Insoluble sources include wheat bran, corn bran, rice bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried beans and wholegrain foods.

When I got into a state of bother recently, the product that helped me the most was Metamucil. It’s a fiber supplement that I believe draws water from your body into your bowel to loosen up your stools. It works like a charm but you’ve got to stay hydrated otherwise it can knock you around. This is the one I have.

If you’re a meal prep type of person, research fiber foods during your meal prep sessions add some foods that contain them.

Even if you aren’t someone who meal preps, there are ways for you to add fiber into your diet. I know with shift work eating properly is easier said than done. However, doing small things like adding the proper amount of fiber into your diet goes a long way.

Here are a few easy meal and recipe suggestions;

3. Avoid Dairy

I know – dairy- most of us love it. However, it can cause some serious constipation, as most dairy contains lactose.

The problem with lactose comes when it is being broken down. Once lactose starts to chemically change it begins creating a methane-based gas. Do we want that? No, we do not! Methane gas is what causes constipation. It slows down the food process of traveling – causing major backups!

I know completely cutting out dairy is out of the question for some, but refraining from overindulging in dairy could improve your gut health immensely. There are plenty of alternatives to dairy products. For instance, if you are milk obsessed try swapping to oat milk or almond milk – NO DAIRY HERE.

4. Stay Active

Exercise always seems like it’s the answer to any problem and in this case, it is true.

Have you ever gone to the restroom and your stool is hard, taking forever to come out? This is because if food passes through your large intestine slowly, it provides time for water to absorb from your stool – causing it to harden. Exercising speeds up the process of food passing through the large intestine, depriving it of enough time to absorb water out of your stool. This means the stool is easier to pass – virtually eliminating constipation.

Extreme workouts aren’t necessary to assist in passing stool, walking will do just fine.

I know finding time to exercise can seem impossible when working random shifts, but there are ways around this. For instance, if you work a desk job and are stationary most of the day – try walking on the spot. Or you can take a small walk outside during a short break – make sure it’s safe night workers!

Making a concerted effort to walk within your shift, or before / after it, will help significantly.

Need some inspiration? Here are a few post’s we’ve written about exercise for shift workers;

[VIDEO] – The best time for night shift workers to exercise

5. Probiotics

Probiotics are healthy bacteria. The two strains of probiotics most beneficial to your gut are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These two strains are extremely helpful when it comes to keeping stool moving through your digestive tract.

Probiotics come in several different forms. The main form in high doses comes as a supplement. You can find these at your local shopping stores, such as Dollar General or Walmart. The price for probiotics ranges from $9-$50, so there’s a price range for everyone!

Not only do probiotics help improve stool release, but they also assist in weight loss, liver function and skin health.

This particular probiotic is really popular on Amazon and has some impressive reviews.

We spent some time writing an entire post about probiotics which I encourage you to check out. The more I learn about our gut health, the more impressed I am with this capability to influence our entire body and our moods! You can take a look here.

6. Water Consumption

Water helps EVERYTHING, including constipation prevention.

Constipation comes from “dehydration” in your colon. Drinking a healthy amount of water will prevent your colon from experiencing constipation. The more your body intakes water, the less it can take from your colon. This makes for a happier and healthier gut!

You might be wondering, how much water is an appropriate amount? The answer is different for men than for women. For men, it is recommended that you drink around 15.5 cups per day, which equals out to about 3.7 liters. For women, the recommended amount is around 11.5 cups daily, which equals out to around 2.7 liters.

Ways of ensuring that you are drinking enough water is to invest in a water bottle! It might sound super simple, but you can take this water bottle with you everywhere, work included (as long as your workplace policies allow). Determine what size of water bottle you are purchasing, and fill up throughout the shift regularly. And don’t fret, most water bottles are inexpensive!

This Iron Flask Stainless Steel bottle is sleek and durable. Highly recommend! We have also chatted about the BEAST Tumbler many times before if you’re looking for one. Here is our review. Have a squizz and see if it will work for you.

If you are a night worker we also suggest consuming foods on night shift that are high in water content. Think watermelon, peaches, oranges, broccoli, celery, cucumbers or zucchini. I know having a salad at 3 am in the morning doesn’t sound that enticing, but lettuce is a great source of food with high water content. And it won’t leave you feeling heaving, wanting a nap after you eat it.

In the video below we talk about the foods to avoid when working the night shift to prevent nausea and bloating. Very interesting viewing even for us when researching it and putting it together.

7. Prunes / Prune Juice

Consuming prunes before your shift can also help you go. Prunes have a reputation of speeding up your bowel movements – so if you choose this route ensure you are in proximity of a toilet – these things can be time-sensitive!

What is it in prunes that makes you have the urge to go so suddenly? Prunes are full of fiber which, if you remember from earlier, have fantastic benefits for your stomach health. Not only do prunes consist of fiber, it also consists of a compound known as sorbitol. (source)

Sorbitol – also known as glucitol – is a sugar alcohol with the effects of a laxative. How does sorbitol work as a laxative? What sorbitol does is pull water into your large intestine. After the water is pulled into your gut it begins to clump up the stool, prompting a bowel movement. (source)

If you are in the grocery store and are looking for prunes and are having a hard time locating them, look for the packaging that reads dry plums, because that’s all they are! If you are heading to work and don’t have time to eat or simply just don’t feel like eating you can get some prune juice. It works just as well as eating prunes!

If you’re on Amazon and about to put in an order for something else, throw these prunes in or consider getting some Prunelax Natural Laxative Tablets.

8. Stay Regular

I know that the urge to go comes at literally the most inopportune times. By that I mean, the time to go usually comes in the busiest work hours. However, going to the bathroom when you feel the urge to go is extremely important. The longer you put off going to the restroom, the more you are increasing the chances of constipation. That feeling you get when your colon is full is there for a reason. (source)

The entire time your stool sits in your colon, water is being absorbed from it. Do you recall what happens when too much water is absorbed from our stool? Right, now you have an extremely hardened stool. The way around this is simple, when you feel the urge to go, GO! (even when at work or in a public place… it’s okay… we won’t tell)

Over the Counter Constipation Products

If you are suffering from constipation please do not feel as if you are alone. Constipation is something that is extremely common amongst all ages. Studies have shown that approximately 16 out of every 100 adults in America suffer from it (source). Constipation is the villain behind millions of doctors visits!

If you ever find yourself having less than three bowel movements within a week’s span, chances are you are suffering from constipation.

Shift work has a terrible way of working against our bodies; in more ways than just making us constipated. This is why we have to fight the good fight and attempt to counteract the negative effects. Working shift work for an extended period has proven to cause irritation within your gut; so be consciously aware of this throughout your shift.

Your gut health is so important for your overall health. Keep in mind that over half of our immune systems lie with our Gastrointestinal Tract (guts). However, unlike other health issues – your gut problems are the easiest for you to maintain. This is why it is so important to keep up healthy habits.

If you ever find yourself struggling with constipation – try to apply some of the above tips for relief. Shift work doesn’t need to make you agitated. You take the reins and start feeding your gut the foods it wants to consume!

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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