Night shift. Graveyard shift. Third shift. Overnights. It has many names, but it’s all the same thing – working at night when your body is supposed to be sleeping. I have been lucky enough not to have had to work the night shift, but my husband has worked this awful shift over and over again throughout the years. The night shift really takes a toll on a person in several ways, and increases short- and long-term health risks to those who work this shift. All of this involves workplace safety because if your staff isn’t healthy then this can create a safety issue for your business.
Someone who works the night shift is at greater risk of:
- Developing Type 2 Diabetes – Research published in the Journal of Biological Rhythms shows that it does not matter how long a person is exposed to working the night shift, their risk of developing diabetes is increased.
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Heart disease and heart attacks – According to WebMD, an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease increases by 40% if they work shift work.
- Cancer – According to WebMD, research shows a 50% increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, and there is a higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate and colorectal cancers.
- Being fatigued constantly (no matter how much sleep they get during the day)
- Causing or being in an accident or becoming injured both on and off the job
- Increased stress – According to David Ballard, the director of the Center for Organizational Excellence and Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program at the American Psychological Association, “Lack of sleep causes great stress in night shift workers.” An increase in stress also increases other health issues – all of them.
- The inability or or problems getting pregnant in women employees
So, what happens when you’ve been asked to work the night shift, or this shift is the only one available, and you’ve developed cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and an increase in your stress levels? This is exactly what has happened with my husband. This is a very dangerous combination for anyone. First, let’s look at why these things are increased in those who work the night shift.
- Our bodies are meant to sleep at night and be awake during the day. When we change that routine we are messing with the natural circadian rhythms of our body. Many people have issues with sleeping during the day, even with blackout curtains and earplugs. This increases the stress even more, and this increases the risk of accidents and injuries.
- The lack of sleep makes it difficult for the person to spend time with their family during the day because they need to sleep. This lack of time with their family increases the feelings of guilt and stress.
- They always feel jet lagged. Have you ever flown across the country, lost or gained a few hours, and just felt really fatigued for a few hours? Imagine feeling like this all of the time no matter how much rest or sleep you get. This is how many people feel when working the night shift, even after a couple days off work.
- It is extremely difficult for a person to eat a regular (and healthy) diet while working the night shift. When they get home in the morning they want dinner instead of the breakfast everyone else is having, and when they get up in the afternoon they still don’t want breakfast because it’s dinner time.
Decreasing the risks and managing working at night can be tricky. Unless, of course, you’re a natural night owl who doesn’t have issues staying up all night and sleeping all day. Here are a few tips from the professionals:
- The most obvious suggestion it to get off the night shift. This will give you the most health benefits.
- Work on a permanent shift. The more a person works rotating shifts the harder it is on the person. “If permanent shift work isn’t an option, consider doing shift work either in large blocks of time, such as a few months at a time, to prevent the need to constantly shift rhythms…,” according to Jeffrey Joyner.
- Get blackout curtains and earplugs for sleeping during the day. We got blackout curtains for my husband when he went back onto the night-shift to try to help his body think it was night time so he’d have an easier time sleeping. Sometimes he uses earplugs, especially when construction or a lot of yard work is being done by the neighbors.
- Drink lots of water and take your lunch. Bringing real food is always better than visiting the nearest fast food joint in the middle of the night to get a pick-me-up to get you through the rest of the night. Being “systematically dehydrated” won’t help you get through the night, according to Deanne Chiu.
At the end of the day, even if you work really hard to get the right amount of rest, to eat right, and to balance your life, there are just some people who can’t (and shouldn’t) work the night shift. If you see your health slipping, then get off the night shift. No job is worth your life!