In many industries, the night shift is a necessary part of the regular workday. Businesses operate through the night to produce as much volume as possible and meet the demands of the market.
But employees tasked with working these irregular shifts for prolonged periods of time can suffer from a variety of health issues. What are these issues? And what can be done to prevent them from happening?
In this article, the experts at Sling reveal 10 effects of working night shifts and how to combat them.
10 Effects Of Working Night Shifts
Working the night shift forces your body to operate on a schedule that goes against its natural circadian rhythms. Most of the time, it’s not a good idea to go against what mother nature put in place.
That said, it is possible to retrain your body to sleep during the day and stay awake during the night. But if this retraining isn’t done correctly—or isn’t done at all—you can begin to suffer serious medical issues. Here’s how working the night shift can affect your health.
1) Interferes With Natural Sleep Rhythms
Sleep is extremely important for your overall health. While you slumber, your body gets rid of toxins, repairs injury, and reduces stress. Working the night shift interferes with those essential processes. That can lead to many of the disorders on this list.
2) Increases Risk Of Breast Cancer
Women who work overnight are at much greater risk of contracting breast cancer than those who only work during the day. And it doesn’t matter if you work the night shift consistently or just one night a week.
3) Increases Risk Of Heart Attack
A 2012 study in the British Medical Journal concluded that working the night shift caused a seven-percent increase in the likelihood that a person would suffer a heart attack. The study did not address why the risk was greater for those who work the night shift, but researchers theorize that the change in sleep habits affects blood pressure and circulation.
4) Increases Risk Of Depression
Working the night shift also has a negative impact on your mental health. Numerous studies show that the risk of depression and mood disorders increase when you work the night shift.
5) Increases Risk Of Workplace Injury
Working the night shift means working against your body’s natural inclination to turn off certain key functions like consciousness and mobility. You can certainly force yourself to stay awake and mobile, but your body still wants to shut down. That leads to a reduction in focus, attention, productivity, and fine motor skills. In certain jobs, when you’re not able to give your work complete attention, the risk of injury increases dramatically.
6) Changes Your Metabolism
Your metabolism is mostly governed by your hormones. The hormone leptin, for example, plays a critical role in regulating your weight, blood sugar, and insulin levels. Working the night shift interferes with the production and circulation of this vital hormone. That can lead to the next set of disorders on this list.
7) Increases Risk Of Obesity And Diabetes
Sleeping during the day and working at night increases your risk of obesity and diabetes. In the case of night-shift workers, these disorders are caused by an imbalance in hormone production. The real danger here is that even if you eat a healthy diet, the hormone imbalance can still lead to obesity and diabetes.
8) Increases Risk Of Gastrointestinal Problems
If you work the night shift for prolonged periods of time, all the effects mentioned above can accumulate and cause gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and ulcers. That can compound the problems you already have and lead to more serious medical concerns.
9) Suppresses Melatonin
When you work the night shift, you are exposed to light during hours of the day when your body expects it to be dark. This reversal of light and dark suppresses melatonin production and release. Melatonin is responsible for controlling the sleep and wake cycles.
This decrease in melatonin levels means that when you try to sleep during the day, you won’t sleep deeply or get enough sleep for your body to repair itself. As a result, you may suffer from long-term sleep deprivation, which is incredibly bad for your health.
10) Deprives Your Body Of Essential Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for your health. It assists with the absorption of calcium and promotes bone growth. Too little vitamin D results in osteomalacia (misshapen bones) along with a whole host of other disorders, such as:
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Heart disease
You can get vitamin D by eating foods like cheese, yogurt, tofu, and salmon. But you absorb the vast majority of vitamin D from sunlight. When you work the night shift and sleep during the day, your body doesn’t get the vitamin D it needs to function properly.
If you’re stuck working overnight, don’t worry. There is good news among all this bad news: you can combat the effects of working the night shift. Here are six easy ways.
6 Ways To Combat The Effects Of Working Night Shifts
1) Transition Slowly
Managers should do their best to slowly transition employees from the day shift to the night shift. At the very least, this gives their body time to adjust to the new schedule. If you’re a busy manager faced with organizing team members on multiple day and night shifts, a scheduling app like Sling can simplify and streamline the process considerably.
Sling is a suite of scheduling, time-management, and communication tools designed to keep employees organized, engaged, and on task. Sling is loaded with intuitive tools, like:
- A cloud-based distribution system
- A calendar view for easy readability
- A time clock that allows employees to clock in and out using their mobile devices
- Push notifications that keep your employees on schedule
- Advanced communication features to keep your team connected
- A task list that can be used to keep groups and individuals focused on specific jobs
On top of all these powerful tools, Sling provides guidance and helps you avoid conflicts by notifying you about availability, time-off requests, overlapping shifts, and double-bookings. Sling even gives you your very own social media platform.
With Sling’s Newsfeed feature, you can share work files, photos, videos, and links with each and every team member. Sling helps you bring everyone together, keep them organized and informed, and build a better company culture. What more could you ask for from a free app?
2) Enlist The Help Of Those You Live With
Your family’s cooperation is critical if you hope to be successful working the night shift. You will all need to work together to balance such essential activities as:
- Family time
- Maintaining schedules
- Paying bills
You will also need their help in establishing quiet hours so you can get the sleep you need to function at night.
3) Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant that is used to give you a quick boost of energy and keep you awake. The problem with caffeine lies in the fact that it stays in your system for hours after you feel the effects, and it can prevent you from sleeping well after work. Drink water whenever possible to avoid the problems caused by caffeine.
4) Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol can make you fall asleep faster, but it also reduces rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the restorative phase of your sleep cycle, so if you interfere with that by consuming alcohol, you effectively interfere with your body’s ability to repair itself.
5) Get Some Sunlight When You’re Not Working
When you’re not working, try to spend at least 30 minutes in the sun. Go for a walk, work in the garden, exercise outdoors, or even just sit and read a book. Doing so will provide your body with the vitamin D it needs to keep you healthy.
6) Sleep In the Right Environment
Sleeping in the right environment can have a big effect on how well and how long you sleep. Here are five ways to ensure that where you sleep isn’t interfering with your quality of sleep:
- Keep your room cool (below 68°F).
- Make your room as dark as possible.
- Make your environment as quiet as possible.
- Consider wearing a sleep mask and earplugs.
- Turn off all electronics two hours before heading to bed.
These simple steps make it possible to get the best night’s sleep every time, even if you sleep during the day.
7) Avoid Nicotine Before Bed
The nicotine found in cigarettes, vape pens, pipes, and all forms of tobacco is a natural stimulant. You may feel like you need a cigarette before bed to relax, but it’s all in your head.
When you introduce nicotine into your body, your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes faster and shallower, and your blood pressure goes up.
These are the opposite conditions your body needs to fall asleep. In essence, then, you are sabotaging your sleep by smoking before bed.
Smoke your last cigarette at least three hours before your bedtime. This will give your body time to process the nicotine out of your system.
8) Turn Off Electronics An Hour Before Going To Sleep
Electronic devices like computers, tablets, and televisions emit light in shorter wavelengths (toward the blue end of the visible spectrum).
This blue light causes your body to produce less melatonin — a hormone that regulates circadian rhythms. Because of this lack of melatonin, your body will be less inclined to slow down and fall asleep.
To prepare your body for sleep — especially after working the night shift — turn off your electronics at least an hour before you go to sleep. If possible, avoid fluorescent light (incandescent lights are okay) and sit for a while in a dimly-lit room.
9) Eat A Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is another way to combat the negative effects of working the night shift.
If you work the night shift consistently, try to eat the same way you would during the day even though you may feel like consuming less.
Eat frequent light meals and healthy snacks in order to avoid the drowsiness that comes with rich, heavy meals.
Similarly, choose foods that are easy to digest (e.g., fruits, vegetables, bread, rice, and pasta) so your body can focus on staying awake rather than diverting resources to keeping you nourished.
Here are a few more tips to help you build a healthy diet:
- Drink plenty of water but stop several hours before bed
- Avoid sugary foods at the end of your day
- Stop eating fried, spicy, and processed foods while working the night shift
- Include the recommended balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in your diet
When you find the diet that works best for you, plan on taking these foods to work with you so you don’t fall back into old habits and eat in a way that causes you to fall asleep at the wrong times.
10) Nap During Breaks
You may not need to during the day shift, but taking a nap during the night shift can become essential to helping you work safely.
A short 20-minute nap can restore energy levels and keep you alert and vigilant throughout the night.
Try not to exceed 45-minute naps or you run the risk of straying into the deep-sleep cycle. If you force yourself to wake up during this period, you will not feel as refreshed and it will take you longer to feel alert again.
Talk To Your Doctor If Working The Night Shift Is Causing Major Problems
The night shift isn’t for everyone. Some people’s bodies just can’t handle the stress of working at night.
If working the night shift is causing you too many health problems, talk to your doctor. She can recommend to your employer that they switch you to the day shift. Doing so can have a profoundly positive effect on your overall health.
Most managers will do their best to accommodate their employees if they have significant problems with working the night shift.
Many times, though, switching to the night shift just takes practice. It’s a skill like anything else, and the more you do it the easier it will become.
The tips we’ve given you in this article are a big part of making your practice more effective. Do your best to incorporate our suggestions and you’ll soon find your body adapting to the night shift and the health impacts decreasing.
Use A Scheduling App To Keep Night Shift Work To A Minimum
Managers who want to provide the best work schedule for their employees — be it the day shift or the night shift — integrate software like Sling into their workflow.
No matter the size of your business or how many shifts you contend with, Sling helps you build your team’s work schedules in the shortest amount of time possible.
With Sling’s powerful suite of tools, you can:
- Minimize late arrivals
- Stay on (or under) budget
- Organize shift-trade requests
- Coordinate availability
- Control labor costs
- Manage time off
- Allow your employees to sign up for available shifts
- Consolidate and streamline internal communication
- Reduce absenteeism
- Simplify time tracking and payroll
The built-in artificial intelligence will even notify you of overlapping shifts, double bookings, and other mistakes in your schedule.
Sling truly is an all-in-one, turnkey solution for your employee shift-scheduling issues.
Right now, you can get everything you need to schedule employees and handle internal communication for an unlimited number of users and locations for free by creating an account on our website.
For more resources to help you manage your business better, organize and schedule your team, and track and calculate labor costs, visit GetSling.com today.