The Side Effects of a Night Shift Job

Over time, our 24/7 information cycle and media connectivity culture has completely disrupted the concept of traditional business hours. It’s already challenging enough to maintain a regular sleep schedule and good work/life balance. However, when your work schedule is irregular or includes night shifts, it can be nearly impossible.  So who is most likely to experience shift work sleep disorders and the health issues associated with chronic stress and sleep deprivation? Studies show that around 10 percent of people working the night shift, long or irregular hours will develop Work Shift Disorder, AKA Shift Work Syndrome or Night Shift Disorder. 

No matter what name you choose, night shift sleep issues are not strictly limited to those working nights. Due to irregular hours and rotating shifts, first responders such as police officers and firefighters, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers, along with factory workers, and call center staff are all more likely to develop sleep issues that can put their health and others at risk. Nighttime or irregular working hours are also quite common in the travel and hospitality sectors, as well as e-commerce. Those who regularly work more than 50 hours per week are also prone to shift work sleep disorders, so hello, workaholics, executives, and administrative staff. When we roll all of these types of work together, it becomes abundantly clear that a substantial portion of the American workforce is being impacted by work shift syndrome sleep issues.

What is Work Shift Disorder?

Few things are harder on people’s bodies and sleep habits than shift work. Since sleep is one of the most important functions of our bodies, losing even a few hours each week will stack up over time. Sleep deprivation will slow response times, which can put workers like first responders and transportation professionals in danger. Just a few hours of sleep loss increases stress levels, impairs daily functioning, and lowers work productivity. Eventually, the chronic sleep deprivation associated with night work or shift work can take a terrible toll on a person’s overall health.

Health Issues Associated with Shift Work

Today, nearly 18 percent of the U.S. labor force works outside daytime hours (6 am – 6 pm). People working night shifts, evening shifts, early morning shifts, or shifts that rotate from day to day or week to week are at a higher risk for developing sleep disorders. They’re more prone to experiencing insomnia and sleepiness during their shift, increasing the chances of making serious mistakes or having/causing an accident in the workplace. Non-traditional shift workers are also more likely to drive drowsy, and twice as likely to fall asleep while driving, putting themselves and others in danger of having an accident. Working night shifts or long hours can also be risky for pregnant women. 

So just how risky is shift work when compared with traditional 9 – 5 hours or daytime work? A recent clinical review study published in February 2020 in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association reports:

“Shift workers are at a significantly increased risk for sleep disorders and metabolic syndrome, which increases a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Individuals, employers and physicians can all take steps to mitigate these risks.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, long-term night shift work is also associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, as well as metabolic problems, heart disease, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, and obesity.

Shift Work Syndrome: The Symptoms

The most common symptoms of shift work disorder or night shift work syndrome are:

  • Excessive sleepiness during times when you need to be awake, alert, and working
  • Insomnia which includes having difficulties falling asleep and/or waking up before you have gotten enough sleep
  • Waking up feeling as though you did not get enough sleep
  • Feeling like you never get enough sleep
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Low energy
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Difficulties managing interpersonal relationships
  • Falling asleep while at work or while driving
  • Experiencing microsleep (involuntary sleep that lasts for a couple seconds)
  • Chronic sleep deprivation

Most shift workers will experience some symptoms from time to time due to their unusual schedule and the strain of not getting enough sleep. With the current pandemic situation, more people are working from home while juggling other responsibilities, and finding that they’re working more, often at odd hours, and sleeping less. So, when should you seek treatment for a suspected shift work-related sleep disorder? When the symptoms rise to the level of a disorder and they are persistent, ongoing, and begin to interfere with your personal life or job performance, you should seek help from an experienced sleep specialist.

Need some tips for better sleep while working shifts? Check out our blog post: 5 Sleep Solutions for Shift Workers

Join Our Shift Work Webinar

Join Dr. Adam Frose for a chat about tips and tricks to help you through your work shift and beyond. Working in and of itself has various impacts on the body and mind, but when night or variable work shifts occur sleep difficulties can especially intensify. During this chat, discussion of alertness at work, sleep scheduling as well as other general tips will be discussed.

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