Is Working Night Shifts Bad for Your Health?
Some studies show that working (permanently, or rotationally) at night shift has adverse consequences on the health of people, especially if the worker has this shift for a long time.
The organism of human beings is ready to work during the day and rest at night. For this reason, during the night the physical and mental abilities of the people diminish, and staying awake and performing an activity that requires concentration supposes a greater effort than they would need during the day to do the same. This “extra wear” has a cumulative effect and can cause conditions such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that a worker will age prematurely five years for every 15 years that he stays during night work hours. Although the health problems do not begin to manifest until after five or 10 years of night work, the decrease in the performance of the worker as a result of accumulated fatigue due to the maladjustment to the schedule is much easier to detect.
People are more alert and perform more between eight in the morning and six in the afternoon. Outside of these hours, especially if they exceed eight hours of work, it is easier to make mistakes and, therefore, work accidents are much more severe and frequent. The accident rate increases concerning the pace and workload and, also, it also increases the possibility of having an accident when the worker returns home after work.
The work schedule not only affects the quantity and quality of the sleep, but it also has repercussions on the alimentary behavior of the individual. To maintain good health it is necessary to have a balanced diet, which provides the essential nutrients for the proper functioning of the organism, but, also, it is convenient that the food is divided into several intakes throughout the day, at least three, and be possible, that it is hot food.
Night work also destabilizes eating habits, frequently, the workers who make this shift eat fast foods that are not of sufficient quality. The problem is that when they get up they do not have an appetite and, when they have it, they are working, and if they can not take a break to have a hot meal suited to their needs, they calm down the hunger with any bauble.
Inadequate eating habits and maintained over time cause disorders in the digestive system such as gastritis, heartburn, gas, stomach ulcer, heavy digestion … Also, the frequent consumption of certain foods such as sandwiches of fatty and sweet sausages, in the substitution of a balanced diet, which is more difficult to follow with the night shift schedule, causes overweight and obesity.
Psychological problem related to the night shift
Among the workers on the night shift, psychological problems are much more frequent than among the general population. This is not only due to the physical disorders caused by the lack of a regular schedule to rest and eat, but it is mainly due to the difficulty they have in leading a satisfactory social life.
All the daily activities are structured to be carried out during the daytime. Since most people sleep between eleven or midnight until six or seven in the morning and work, study, or perform other activities during the day, it is considered normal to use the afternoons and the ends of the day.
Night shift workers, however, see limited their ability to interact with others. It suffers their relationship and also the relationship they have with their children, since they can barely spend time together and, also, the rest of the family must adapt to their sleep schedule and limit certain activities in the home that could interfere with their break. If the two members of the couple work, it is still more difficult to organize themselves to share leisure or to carry out activities in common or shared with their children.
In general, the problems that affect the night shift workers most frequently and intensively are:
- Alteration of the circadian rhythm, which results in a permanent sleep deficit
- Chronic fatigue
- Digestive disorders (heartburn, gastritis, bad digestion) and the circulatory system
- Changes in character, irritability, nervousness, and aggression
- Problems in their social and family relationships
- Difficulties to lead a satisfactory sexual life
- Higher incidence in the consumption of alcohol and tobacco
- A decrease in work performance
- Increased susceptibility to an accident
How to organize work shifts
The better the working conditions, regardless of the work schedule, the better the performance and the adaptation of the workers to their position. When it is necessary to maintain production 24 hours a day, work shifts are inevitable, and it is, therefore, essential to take a series of measures that promote the welfare and health of workers.
It is necessary that they are informed of all the possibilities they have to adapt working hours to their individual needs and try to establish shifts or rotation, by the advice of specialists, so that the working conditions are as most favorable conditions for those affected.
Shifts should be fully coupled to the biological cycles of wakefulness, sleep and meal times, and take into account that workers need to maintain satisfactory family and social relationships.
Some recommendations when organizing work shifts are:
- It is important that workers intervene in the choice of shifts and that they especially respect the natural sleep cycle; so the morning shift should not start too early (preferably not before 06.30 or 07.00).
- The afternoon and night shifts should not be longer than those of tomorrow, and in those shifts, you can not extend the working day more than eight hours (if overtime is required these must be done only on the morning shift).
- When workers change their shift, they must know in advance the rotation calendar to organize their personal life and their activities outside the workplace, according to the dates and times that correspond to work.
- The number of consecutive night shifts should be the minimum possible; that is, the worker should not work more than three or four consecutive nights before taking a day off.
- The worker must have enough rest time between the end of one shift and the beginning of the next. Therefore, you should not perform a morning shift and a night shift on the same day, but one day will end your morning or afternoon, and the next day will enter the night shift, for example.
- If there are workers who, due to personal circumstances, prefer to work in a fixed shift, and the rest of the staff agrees, it is preferable to let them choose the shift because this will improve performance and facilitate the organization of work.
- It is necessary to enable a space where workers can take a break to drink something hot.
- It must be evaluated if the workers on the night shift enjoy the sufficient number of breaks because this shift requires more effort to concentrate, fatigue is greater, and the possibility of accidents is increased.
- It is necessary to establish periodic medical examinations (every six months), to detect early the lack of adaptation to shifts and to prevent their harmful consequences on the health of affected workers.
- In the schedule of shifts should be provided whenever each worker has free weekends of at least two consecutive days
- It is necessary to avoid, as far as possible, that children under 20 and those over 45 work on the night shift and, if they do, they should not be alone on that shift.