Sheila Olson, of fitsheila.com
Millions of workers in the U.S. keep the country going after dark, but their health may suffer in the long-term.
Who works the night shift?
Historically, overnight work has been limited to two categories: vital services and manufacturing.
Vital services include ER nurses and doctors, police and firemen. Manufacturing jobs run the gamut from early morning bakers to assembly line technicians.
With the modern addition of a digital infrastructure, more and more white-collar jobs are moving to the midnight hour. While this means more flexibility for the workers and their families, the benefits they get now may be offset by issues down the road.
Mental and physical health at risk
According to Chron contributor J.E.Cornett, night workers are more at-risk of certain health problems than their daylight-dwelling coworkers. This includes a higher likelihood of being in an accident and failing to get enough sleep.
The latter of these issues is a side effect of fighting the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which is the biggest danger of those who work overnight. Disruptions to the body’s desire to sleep at night and wake during the days has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Mentally, people who work overnight hours may be more at risk of depression, anxiety and poor self-image thanks to chronic sleep deprivation.
Reset the clock
While science is working on a way to control circadian rhythm, researchers have yet to make it happen. Until then, it’s up to individuals to find methods that help them sleep so they can remain effective at work and, more importantly, stay healthy.
Environmental factors at home are the first and most obvious elements to consider.
A restful bedroom environment can mean the difference between poor sleep and a solid eight hours of rest. But sleeping during the day is difficult since the body is conditioned to move in the light.
Angie’s List offers a few simple tips for encouraging sleep. These include adding blackout shades and comfortable bedding.
Those with family members at home during the day or who live in close proximity to noisy neighbors may also want to add a sound machine to their bedroom.
Even with changes to the bedroom, many night shift workers find it difficult to get enough sleep. Fortunately, a monophasic sleep cycle, which is a traditional seven to nine-hour block of uninterrupted sleep, isn’t the only option.
One solution to combat health issues associated with sleep deprivation is to practice biphasic sleep, meaning to sleep in a series of two sleep-wake sessions throughout the day.
Sleeping this way allows for multiple REM cycles and is a habit the body can adapt to fairly easily.
Sleep and health experts also recommend practicing good sleep hygiene, which means to set a schedule and stick to it. Eating well and getting enough exercise also contributes to the ability to achieve optimum sleep.
Issues that hinder sleep
Stress, pressure to get chores taken care of, and desire to spend time with family are all reasons cited for poor daytime sleep.
But issues such as watching the clock, drinking coffee less than six hours before bed and failing to establish a wind down routine can also play a part in an inability to get to sleep.
In summary, night shift workers are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting enough sleep. But, since sleep remains vital to overall health and wellness, ensuring daily sleep needs are met is imperative.
Shift workers are encouraged to find a sleep cycle that works for their needs and take preemptive measures to ensure they are allowed to sleep uninterrupted during their preferred times.