Working night shift and how to enjoy it

By Dr Pushpa Chandra

Apr 21

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 15 million Americans are working night shift and many will tell of the toll of working these late night hours has done to their sleep schedules and the stress it has put their body through. But getting a good night's sleep is not the only issue at risk when it comes to a shift worker's health, especially among women who are working a rotating night shift.

Risks associated with working the night shift

  • memory loss and general irritability
  • relationships and social lives can suffer
  • 11% experience a shorter life span
  • cardiovascular disease jumps to 19% for those who work this shift for 6 to 14 years and 23% for those working them longer
  • of those working these night shifts for an extended amount of time, they also have a 25% higher risk of experiencing death from lung cancer
  • higher risk of heart attacks and heart disease
  • breast disease rates rise
  • increases diabetes risk
  • higher levels of obesity potential
  • higher risk of workplace injury
  • risk of higher levels of depression
  • issues with fertility and pregnancy

Research done by the World Health Organization has acknowledged the increased risks to this group due to disruptions in the circadian rhythm of the brain during the sleep cycle. They state that these risks, which can lead to decreased heart and brain functions, poor cardio-vascular system health and the body's ability to prevent tumors, should be classified as a potential carcinogen to the body.

Who is affected when working the night shift?

Not only does working the night shift affect the traditional jobs it is usually associated with, but has grown to be accepted as lowering work performance in other areas as well. Many people work these late shifts because there is a need for the job to be operated on a 24-hour schedule with someone often required to be on the location in a supervisory role. Another reason is that this may be the only time this work can be performed such as is the case for road construction crews. This type of job can potentially affects many people from:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Factory and manufacturing workers
  • First responders (firemen, police officers, EMT workers)
  • Construction and tradesmen

But there are some positions that are often overlooked such as:

  • Truck drivers
  • Members of the military
  • Janitorial and cleaning staff
  • New parents with their daily occupations
  • Existing children in homes with a new baby
  • Students, especially those seeking a college education

Tips to improve health while working the night shift

  • Eat well and exercise- Many of the risks associated with working the night shift has to do with improper diet and lack of exercise. By improving diet and implementing a strict exercise plan can help improve the over all health of the worker.
  • Get enough sleep- Just because some people work a night shift does not mean that they must skip out on the required amount of sleep. Use blinds and ear plugs to help avoid the external stimulation that may be keeping them awake. If they have a family, they should ask them to be considerate with their noise levels during the times when they need to be sleeping. It has also been suggested that even brief exposure to the sun can disrupt sleep patterns with some physicians recommending they drive home with sun glasses on to help avoid this daytime exposure.
  • Try to set up a steady schedule- If possible try to avoid having to switch back and forth from a night to a day shift. This will allow the body time to adjust to the schedule. Working different shifts, where their body is constantly in a state of flux between day and night is harder on the body than working the night shift only.
  • Try not to work too many night shifts consecutively if possible
  • See a doctor regularly- By seeing a doctor or other health practitioner on a regular schedule, it is more likely they will notice certain changes in a person's body.
  • Limit and monitor your caffeine intake- Often people drink caffeine to stay awake and keep them alert. This is acceptable, but they need to keep their consumption at low levels to avoid health issues associated with high caffeine consumption, and avoid drinking them toward the end of their shift. This will help them avoid having a problem going to sleep when they return home.

Although there is often no way for some to avoid working the night shift, there are ways to limit it's detrimental side effects. The easiest things to do are some of the most effective, get enough sleep, watch your diet and get plenty of exercise. By following a regimen your body will adjust it's rhythm to fit the schedule you may be required to work


About the Author

Dr. Pushpa Chandra is a Vancouver-based Naturopathic Physician. She worked for over 27 years as a registered nurse and 22 years at BC's Children's Hospital, working in critical care with the province's sickest children. Her interests include research in circadian rhythm disruption, sports medicine and pediatrics. A competitive sports enthusiast, she has completed ultramarathons and marathons in all 7 continents. As a shift worker she has been using the ingredients of AWAKE and ASLEEP to boost her performance, endurance and overall health.