The Health Dangers of Shift Work

shiftIf your job has you working something other than the first shift of the day, you know of the unique set of challenges you face. Sure, there are benefits: A better schedule for childcare, shift pay differentials and giving workers time to do other things during the off hours such as pursue education. However, there are some disadvantages, the biggest being how it can have an overall negative impact on employees’ well-being and health.

What is Shift Work?

Shift work is considered any work schedule that requires irregular hours in comparison to a traditional daytime work schedule that runs roughly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. More people may do shift work than you think. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that more than 15 million full-time workers work alternative shifts. The most common alternative shift is the evening shift, usually between 2 p.m. and midnight, and irregular shifts that have a constantly changing schedule. Think flight attendants, doctors or police officers.

The Health Impact of Shift Work

There have been a lot of studies done to determine if shift work puts people at a higher risk for certain health conditions. It has been found that shift workers have an increased risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Death from cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of lung cancer

It is theorized that the disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle results in reduced amounts of sleep which could be responsible for the higher health risks associated with shift work. In fact, the interruptions of the sleep-wake cycle are so serious that in 2007 the World Health Organization classified night shift work as a potential carcinogen.

How Can Shift Work Increase Occurrence of Disease?

It is thought that when a person does shift work they are awake for several more hours a day than what is normal, and that could put people out of sync with their environment. This not only results in tired people but in hormone imbalances too – which may be why night shift work has been deemed a carcinogen.

Disruption of sleep patterns has also been associated with increased risk of cancer, higher blood pressure, and higher cholesterol. The behavior and lifestyle choices of people who do shift work may also increase its links to chronic disease since shift workers are more likely to have higher body mass indexes as well as higher stress levels. They smoke cigarettes more often, too.

What to Do

While all of the implications of shift work on health are not yet fully understood, one thing is – that shift workers need to take extra steps to protect their health. They can do this by:

  • The last few days of an evening shift, delay going to sleep and waking by one to two hours.
  • Allow extra time to acclimate your body to a new work schedule without getting less sleep.
  • Wear sunglasses to help avoid daylight and other cues that may make it more difficult to go to sleep.

Getting good quality sleep is important for everyone, so if you do shift work you must remember to take extra care of yourself!

Image used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Cristiano Zingale (kouam)

Story Link

This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Corp (or its franchisees and affiliates). You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.