Asleep at the wheel! Health tips for night shift workers

  • By Team TDO

Changing work patterns now have offices working 24x7 to cater to time lines across time zones. Even local workforce like the Police, Firemen and Hospital Staff work round a clock, which includes night shifts.

For more than two decades, we are familiar with the sight of call centre execs returning home bleary eyed from work in the wee hours of the morning.

There are fancy names for night shifts like non-traditional hours, graveyard shifts etc. but the fact remains that working nights over time will eventually catch up with you if you aren’t careful, as only owls are supposed to be up at odd hours and not humans.

Prolonged night shifts have known to take a toll on a person’s performance at work, home and in his personal life also.

The statistics have pinned down at least 20% of the total work force in industrialized nations work night shifts according to an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The most common ill effects of night shifts over a period are:

  1. Increase in anxiety and depressive patterns
  2. Sleep Deprivation
  3. Decrease in productivity
  4. Increase in mistakes on duty or exposure to accidents due to lack of proper focus and co-ordination
  5. Social ineptitude

In the words of Wesley Elon Fleming, MD, clinical assistant professor at Loma Linda University and director of the Sleep Center Orange County in Southern California, “Memory and ability to focus can become impaired, and shift workers who are sleep-deprived often get irritable or depressed. Their relationships and social life can suffer, too.”

If you have headaches, lack of energy and trouble concentrating and you work night shifts, consult your doctor immediately. It could be sleep deprivation, a serious condition!

So, what are the steps that you can take as a night shift worker, to avoid the stress and horrors of sleep deprivation?

Get home immediately after shift:

The moment you sign out of the muster at the end of the shift, it is tempting to stop over for a cup of coffee and exchange notes for the night’s work with fellow colleagues. The body is as it is disrupted in its circadian rhythms and caffeine can make it worse by keeping you awake. The body requires its full quota of sleep, so the best thing would be to hop in to your company bus or start for home right away.

Avoid driving:

Many people prefer their own transportation as they can immediately start for home after their shift. While this is fine for some time, sooner or later the lack of sleep in night shift workers is going to ruin their reflexes and focus after a long shift. So, as far as possible, rely on company transportation or at least don’t speed if you are using your own car.

Rotate shifts:

People in hazardous occupations like heavy machine operators or firemen are always put on rotational shifts as night shifts could cause a lack of concentration leading to accidents, injuries and even fatalities at the workplace. Even the rotation of shifts should not be sudden like a sudden change from morning to night shifts which can cause disorientation and poor performance. The shift should be gradual i.e. from Morning 10 Am the shift could be to 2 pm in the afternoon and then early evening before going on to the graveyard shift. The body takes time to adapt to a new shift routine and there can be much discomfort due to that. The shifts should not rotate too frequently as that is even more disastrous than a permanent graveyard shift.

Sleep Immediately:

Avoid bright lights if you return home in the early hours of the morning as the lights could stop you from falling asleep. Human sleep patterns are also, to a large extent, regulated by light so the body clock gets utterly confused whether to remain awake or to sleep. So, once you get home try and maintain silence around the house and you can wear blinders and earmuffs or draw the blinds to help your body recover from the graveyard shift.


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