How to spot a shift worker in a crowd? He will be walking listlessly; will have large dark circles under his eyes and a grumpy expression on his face. What’s more, he will be walking in the opposite direction from the rest because when others go to work, his workday ends.
Though the picture may be slightly exaggerated, it rightly expresses the issues of working in a shift. Working in shifts is a reality of the times we live in, in industries like health care, manufacturing to BPOs; alternating between three different shift timings or having rotational shifts is a norm today. But while we may enjoy the convenience of extra income on night duties and more time off that ensues, there is a heavy toll on our bodies that we cannot overlook.
It affects the Biological or Circadian clock
Circadian Clock is the clock in the brain that monitors the light available and regulates the sleep pattern accordingly. At night, it causes the secretion of a chemical - Melatonin, which signals the body to sleep while drop in Melatonin levels leads the body to wake up. The system ensures the normal functioning of the body by adjusting the temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and digestion. Proper functioning of these bodily activities maintains the bodily rhythm called as circadian rhythm.
Human beings, over the course of evolution, are attuned to sleep at night and stay awake in the daytime. But when we disturb this rhythm, our body suffers from fatigue, lack of effective sleep, weakened immune system and increase in risk of heart ailments.
Here is what your body goes through when you work in shifts:
Those who constantly rotate their shifts or who work in night shifts are three times more likely to suffer from gastric problems like constipation, diarrhea and bouts of indigestion. This is credited to irregular sleeping hours as well as diet high in fats with little or no nutritive value that those working in shifts generally eat. There are also more incidences of peptic ulcers in shift workers.
Those who work in rotating shifts do not have fixed hours of sleep and work and thus require more effort to fall asleep. It was found out that shift workers on an average sleep 2 hours less than the day time workers.
Due to insufficient sleep, most shift workers suffer from chronic fatigue and feeling of listlessness and to them the answer to it seems to be endless cups of caffeine which only worsens the problem. There is also dip in the memory, thinking and concentration levels in those who are working in shifts.
Long term effects
One study found 60% more breast cancer cases in those women who are working in shifts than others. The production of Melatonin, the chemical with anti-oxidant and tumor suppressing properties, gets affected by working in shifts which could be the cause for this trend. Even WHO has stated ‘shift work’ as a probable carcinogen or an agent that causes cancer in their 2007 report.
A study conducted in 1986 showed that workers working in shifts for 15 years were 300% more likely to suffer from heart disease.
Emotional and Social Repercussions
Those working in shifts tend to lose on family time together because of the conflicting schedules. If measures are not taken to spend more time together then there will be a lotof strain on relationships. The lack of time for family and friends also leads to dissatisfaction and stress for the individual as well as the family.
How to deal with working in shifts?
We are not here to say give up your employment because it involves working in shifts. We are here to help you manage the negative impact of working in shifts on your health.
- Time it right: Those who work in the afternoon and evening shifts should have their meals in the middle of the day rather than during their work hours.
- Eat frequently: While on the shift, they should eat light meals frequently to maintain the metabolism and keep the energy levels going.
- No coffee, tea: Avoid drinking too many cups of coffee or tea at work as it will only lead to difficulty getting sleep later.
- Light: From the options available, choose something that is easy to digest and low on salt and fats- like cereals, pop-corn, etc.
- Nutritious at home: When at home, try to get your meals as nutritious as possible with lots of green vegetables, fruits, pulses, whole grain and dairy products.
- Develop a sleep routine by falling asleep and getting up at the same time schedule every day.
- To help get sleep faster, use shades to dim the lighting, wear ear plugs to reduce noise disturbance and sleep in a room which is the most undisturbed in your house. Also inform your family members to not disturb you while you are sleeping.