Working the Night Shift

For years, I grew up with a “Do Not Ring Doorbell” sign taped to the front of my house. It served as a courtesy call—a request for delivery men and neighbors not to disturb my father, who slept during the day.

While my siblings and I got ready for bed, my father was just waking up and packing his bag for work. He joined the nearly 15 million American full-time employees on the night shift or other irregular hours.

Not everyone works a typical nine-to-five job. The nocturnal staffers who clock in after the sun sets sacrifice time with their families and surrender healthy habits. According to several studies, night shift workers suffer an assortment of ailments compared to those employed during daytime hours.

Most notably, working after dusk affects one’s sleep schedule; those who work overnight prove to be sleep deprived. In a study conducted by University of Iowa researchers, police officers who worked at night were 14 times more likely to get fewer than six hours of sleep per day, two hours less than that recommended for adults between the ages of 26 and 64 by the National Sleep Foundation.

A diagnosis now exists to explain the sleep deprivation that night shift workers experience. Shift Work Sleep Disorder (SWSD) impacts people who work non-traditional hours and results in sleep interruption and extreme tiredness.

This lack of sleep often leads to physical injuries in the workplace. The University of British Columbia’s School of Environmental Health found that drowsy and fatigued night shift workers were more likely to experience injury than those laboring in the day hours.

Sleeping too little or against the body’s natural clock also increases the likelihood of contracting illnesses. For instance, a study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that individuals with a poor sleep schedule run a higher risk of becoming obese or developing diabetes. Further inquiries into this correlation supported the findings, citing that night shift workers possessed lower levels of leptin, a hormone known to regulate weight. These discoveries also confirmed that working throughout the night affected one’s blood sugar and insulin measurements.

The strain put on night workers also increases their likelihood of experiencing heart-related afflictions. The British Medical Journal released a report with findings that prove working the night shift accounted for seven percent of heart attacks that occurred in 2009 and 2010. The study also found that workers also suffered other vascular maladies, including strokes.

Aside from these bodily risks, a large percentage of people employed at night indicate greater instances of depression and irritability. A study in the journal SLEEP confirms that late-shift workers experience lower serotonin levels, a chemical responsible for mood balance.

Staying awake during nonuniform hours also has resounding effects on staffers. Doctors recommend that workers prioritize sleep by taking certain measures to ensure they receive the fullest rest possible. Professionals suggest minimizing the exposure to brightness, seeing as those who work during the night sleep during daylight hours. They also encourage family members to be respectful of the situation by fostering and maintaining a quite home environment.

Apart from the aforementioned advice, some professions have instituted workshops for their employees to attend in order to help them better adjust to this atypical and demanding lifestyle.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released an online course that aims to train nurses and their managers on the hazards of working long hours. The lectures attempt to promote healthy personal behaviors and reduce the safety concerns linked to lack of sleep.

For workers who do not have programs like this in place, taking adequate breaks at work, trying to relax, and having frequent meetings with physicians can minimize the dangers associated with clocking in at dusk.

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Greyweed.