Security guards, firefighters, policemen, nurses, cleaning crews, and more, all experience working night shifts. It’s estimated that 6 million people work the night shift in the US. In our current bustling economy, many industries need help during off hours. This means more shifts need to be filled at all hours of the week.
But what is the impact of the night shift on your body and your daily life? Let’s look at the history of the night shift and its impact on your health. We’re also going to cover 7 tips to keep individuals on the night shift healthy.
If you or someone you know works a night shift – read on to learn how to help!
The History of the Night Shift
The idea of working nights is not an new one. We’ve had a need for work at night long ago in history. Watchmen of ancient kingdoms would guard the grounds at night. Their job was protecting their master from any threat.
Is wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the concept of the night shift really changed. The invention of the lightbulb allowed workers to work longer by illuminating the dark. Manufactures in metal and textile mills jumped at the chance for increased production and higher profits. They introduced the concept of shift work. This meant they could split crews into groups and rotate when they worked. This allowed more goods without the added pay of extra crew.
The concept of shift work continued to grow into every industry. Today it is still relevant. Many companies and workers enjoy the benefit of shift work. They get time off during the day, atypical weekends, or flexibility for other responsibilities.
Some of the most common shift work is found in the transportation sector. Construction, railroads, freights, all need night shifts. They need to be able to work without distractions from daily traffic or pedestrians.
More increasingly the service industry is becoming a big night shift provider. More retail centers and convenience stores are operating on a 24 hour system. This means they need workers for shifts around the clock.
Shift work is also common in public safety and health care. EMS, Police, Security, Fire Fighting, and Hospitals are just some examples of industries that have the need for staff 24/7 to keep the public safe.
The Impact of the Night Shift
Working the night shift can be a big change for you, your family, and your health. It’s important to take care of yourself during this unusual schedule. Taking care of yourself helps make sure you don’t suffer from a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders are no joke and can cause workers to have absences and accidents.
What is a sleep disorder? Its definition is a ‘medical disorder of your sleep patterns’. Basically meaning you aren’t getting enough sleep, aren’t staying asleep, or having excessive sleep. Having disruptive sleep patterns can result in serious mental and physical issues. The body needs sleep to restore and rejuvenate. Certain body processes like growing muscle, repairing tissue, and synthesizing hormones all happen while we sleep.
Sleep disorders are linked to many serious mental and physical issues. They’re associated with hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, and heart attacks. It also impacts your memory and learning. It weakens your immune system, making you more vulnerable to germs and diseases.
For your long term health, it’s important to recognize the risk of sleep disorders due to working the night shift. Once you have the information you can start to adapt healthy patterns to reduce the risk.
7 Tips for Working the Night Shift
Here are some tips to help you adjust to the night shift schedule:
- Make sure you drink lots of water and eat! Dehydration will make sleep deprivation so much worse, so remember to stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle if you can. And make sure you eat something before you go to sleep.
- Be aware of your caffeine intake. Most people will rely on caffeine (energy drinks or coffee) to keep them alert, but it’s important to know that with any caffeine drink you will experience a crash! Also if you drink your caffeine too late into your shift it will affect your ability to sleep when you do get home
- Set a sleeping goal. Make sure you’re keeping track of when you fall asleep and wake up. You ideally want 8 hours every time to stay fresh, alert, and functional.
- Keep your workspace bright and your sleep space dark. Sure it may not always be possible but do your best to keep your bedroom very dark by blocking windows with curtains, keeping electronics off, and closing the door if possible. If possible try to keep your workstation bright to stay alert and focused while on the job. The circadian rhythm is what the body uses to keep track of a 24 hour cycle. It is susceptible to light, temperature, and certain medications. So do you best to keep that cycle intact!
- Try to keep a schedule. If possible try not to work doubles or rotating shifts. Your body can adjust to a night shift schedule much easier if it is a regularly occurring cycle. By disrupting the schedule with working various shifts or taking days on and off, you never adjust to a normal schedule and your body doesn’t know what to expect.
- Be wary of bright light on the way home. The sunlight will keep you up longer, so if you are planning on going home and straight to bed, keep that in mind! Wear sunglasses on the way home and don’t do any errands. The longer you stay out in the sun the harder it will be to go to sleep.
- Get support from your family and friends. One of the hardest parts of working the night shift is feeling isolated from your friends and family. you may not be able to join in the late night parties or the midday lunches anymore, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never get to see them again. Ask for their support and let them know of your new schedule. Ask them not to reach out to you and wake you up when they know you’ll be asleep. And let them know when you are available and they will understand. You’ll still be able to have a social life, it will just need a little bit of flexibility!
Hopefully these tips make you feel more confident about working the night shift. Your health doesn’t have to suffer from working the night shift. Pay attention to your body’s current needs. Some small changes and you can make sure the transition to night shift is smooth!
While it will be a big change to your lifestyle, it’s not impossible. Jobs that help you provide for your family or further your career are important. We want to help you achieve your goals in a healthy, safe way.