Almost one-and-a-half million Australians work on shifts; a job situation that has been linked to health and safety problems as well as reduced performance. In the U.S., over 22 million workers are on evening, rotating or on-call shifts.
Shift work is essential to keeping healthcare facilities, law enforcement, and other types of services functioning on a 24/7/365 basis. It is essential for many industries, which rely on it to make the best use of equipment and to meet market demand.
Shift work isn’t going away, so workers need to adapt to ensure they can cope with workplace safety and the demands of the job. Here is a look at some of the challenges and useful coping methods.
How Shift Work Affects Humans
The biggest problems facing shift workers are fatigue and sleep disorders. When you can’t sleep, other parts of your life are affected, including:
- Attention span
- Reaction time
- Ability to concentrate
- Mood, especially anger and emotional ups and downs
In addition, shift work has been linked to an increased risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Family problems and higher divorce rates
- Risk of cancer, especially breast cancer
- Increased chance of developing epilepsy is you are already pre-disposed to this illness
- Problems controlling blood sugar for those with diabetes
The effects these have on the job are significant. Workplace accidents that have been traced to shift work and the resulting fatigue include:
- The U.S. Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident in 1979
- The Alaskan Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1986
- The USSR Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986
Ways to Cope
Sleep solutions are available. Here is a look at three ways you can help your body and mind cope if you work shifts.
#1. Stay healthy.
Eating well and getting exercise is recommended for everyone and considered the foundation of good health. For shift workers, it’s essential. Establish regular meal times, don’t skip meals, and don’t eat a big meal within three hours of your bedtime. Experiment with different types of exercise and find what you enjoy.
#2. Establish a Sleep Routine.
This includes naps. Short naps, less than 90 minutes, just before your job starts help keep you alert.
Stick to the same sleep schedule every day, whether you are working or not. This helps to align your internal body clock, reducing the chance of sleep disruption.
#3. Try Light Therapy.
Exposure to bright light helps adjust your body clock, and artificial light works when availability to sunlight is limited. To be most effective, light therapy is done using specially made light boxes for 15 to 30 minutes on a regular schedule or sleep mask light therapy products.
Experiment with the remedies available to find what works best for your schedule and your needs. Rest assured, you can sleep well and stay rested even if you work non-standard hours.