Many jobs require working at odd hours: late at night, early morning. Companies try to manage the exhaustion levels by assigning shifts. But this can still disrupt the worker’s internal clocks. Our bodies are designed to sleep, eat, work, and rest at certain hours of the day. When our careers force us to take on a different schedule, we can experience shift work disorder. Read up on the recent research on the long-term effects of shift work.
What shift work does to your body
Studies show that people who work odd shifts may get the same amount of sleep, but get a lower quality of sleep. This leads to loss of concentration, a compromised immune system, and increased risk for injury and accidents. Over time, their body clock also gets confused—causing insomnia, or difficulty sleeping.
Constant lack of sleep can mess up your body’s hormones, including those that regulate appetite. That’s why it’s common for shift workers to indulge in excessive eating, leading to weight gain—and all the risks associated with a poor diet and increased body fat. In fact, people who work shifts for ten years or more have greater tendency to develop heart and gastrointestinal disease.
How to cope with shifts
To manage these health risks, shift workers are encouraged to try to stabilize their schedule. Minimize frequent shift changes—if you have a certain shift, stick to it, and schedule the rest of your day acordingly. If you are going to have a change in shift, plan for it. Ideally, your shift should change forward in time rather than backwards.
Train your body to follow this schedule. Establish a sleeping ritual that will help prepare your mind and your body for rest. For example, wind down before bedtime with a relaxing activity (like reading a book or a hot bath) and cut back on caffeine at least six hours before.
Dealing with a night shift
If you have a night shift, try to get a power nap right before. Avoid accidents—don’t drive yourself home, but arrange for someone to pick you up, or take a cab.
Photo from creativewatch.co.uk