Combating Issues Related to Shift Work

(STL.News) When you add up all the irregular shifts that occur in the workplace, shift work accounts for most of it.  Many jobs have part-time employees.  Plus, there are split shifts in the service and hospitality industries.  On-call schedules and prolonged hours including shifts of up to 12 hours or more are common in many professions.  Then there’s variable schedules, flexible work, job sharing, compressed weeks and weekend work.  The traditional 9 to 5 has been essentially replaced in many cases and for many reasons.  These work arrangements come with a variety of problems including sleep issues, health risks and struggles maintaining a social life. When shift work is unavoidable, finding ways to cope is important.

Why Employees Work Non-Standard Hours

Often, job requirements don’t allow employees to choose their preferred work schedule.  For example, Firefighter’s might not get the option to work a standard nine-hour day.  Additionally, some jobs simply must be done during third shift.  However, there are many people who choose night work because it pays more and allows more time during the day for other pursuits.  Perhaps, attending school full time or tending to hobbies that must take place during the day.  Sometimes families make the sacrifice, parents working differing shifts, so that daycare can be avoided.  Others may prefer to work a less chaotic shift, choosing the calm quiet evening shift.

Known Health Risks for Third Shift Workers

The health risks associated with shift work are many. Poor diet due to the lack of “lunch” options can lead to gastrointestinal issues.  Having an erratic sleep schedule may lead to insomnia or sleep
deprivation.  This can impact workplace safety as risks for both on-the-job and at-home accidents increases.  More serious, long-term adverse health effects can also occur.  Shift workers experience an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.  Hormone imbalances in shift workers can lead to fertility issues and/or obesity.  Even general mood is affected by shift work.  It may be because those working overnight can feel isolated and lack necessary physical exercise and mental stimulation.

Sleep Problems Associated with Shift Work

Poor sleep is linked to many of these health risks.  The human body has a natural circadian rhythm that directs several aspects of human behavior.  It uses light cues to manage an instinctual sleep schedule.  As the sun rises, the body experiences an uptick in alertness. As it becomes darker, the brain releases hormones that relax the body.  Even body temperature is impacted.  When people fight the natural responsiveness of this rhythm, fatigue and sleep disturbances can result.  Rather than simply suffering, shift workers can take steps to minimize sleep issues.

Sleep Tips to Help Cope

  • Stick to a Sleep Schedule: It is best to go to sleep at around the same time and awaken at the same time every day.
  • Use Light as a Tool: Exposure to bright light, on an intermittent basis throughout the shift may help one adjust to a new sleep schedule.
  • Limit Disruptions: Using a split king adjustable bed can keep couples who work different shifts from waking each other.
  • Maintain a Healthy Diet: Avoid fast food and vending machine fare and opt for three healthy meals spaced evenly apart throughout your “day.”
  • Implement Good Sleep Hygiene: Use black out curtains and avoid caffeine as well as alcohol before bed.
  • Find Time to Exercise: Getting adequate physical activity can help you tire at the appropriate time and is good for your health.

Shift Work and Social Life

Work-Life balance can be more difficult for third shift employees especially.  Many times, celebrations and get togethers happen in the evening, just as the overnight shift is getting to work for the day.  This can be disheartening.  It is important to find ways to feel connected and enjoy life outside of work.  Find hobbies and activities that are flexible to support a healthy social life.  While going to a concert would be fun, it occurs at a finite time that may interfere with your schedule.  However, going kayaking can be done at almost any time of day!  Exploring new activities can introduce you to new people and expand your social circle.

The Takeaway

Issues are sure to arise when working overnight.  Whether it is a favored shift or the only one available, shift work can be challenging.  Luckily, there are actions that can be taken to combat the common problems that emerge.