The primary reason that shiftwork can be detrimental to ones health is that by nature, human beings are geared towards functioning during daytime hours. Our biological functioning is regulated by an internal clock known as the circadian rhythm. This clock is tells the body when to sleep and when to wake up. Sunlight and darkness regulate this clock. Under normal conditions, darkness triggers the body to steadily go into “sleep mode”. As the body prepares for sleep blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and temperature drop while digestion and normal cognitive functioning slows.
Common health hazards associated w/ shiftwork include:
Gastrointestinal problems- Shiftworkers tend to be eating at a time when digestion is slowing. Shiftworkers tend to have access to less healthy meals and rely on snacks that are high in fat content. Shiftworkers often rely heavily on coffee which increases risk of ulcers.
Cardiovascular problems – Altered eating patterns, disrupted sleep patterns can lead to cardiovascular disease by increasing stress and blood pressure.
Sleep and stress related disorders – The shiftworker attempts to sleep when the body is naturally programmed to wake up. This decreases sleep quality and quantity. During specific stages of sleep necessary physical and psychological repair takes place. Disrupted sleep patterns prevents healthy restoration to occur possibly leading to increased risk of physical and/or emotional breakdown.
Drug and alcohol abuse- Shiftworkers often become dependent on drugs and/or alcohol in an attempt to either help stay awake or help to get to sleep. Most commonly abused substances include caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol and over the counter sleep medications.
Family and social issues- Shiftworkers usually have less time to spend with family and friends. They are at work or trying to sleep when regular social activities are scheduled. Fatigue may also impact shiftworker’s ability to spend quality leisure time with others. Single parents also have to deal with difficulties finding appropriate child care.
Tips for minimizing the impact of Shiftwork include:
1. Get to sleep as soon as possible upon returning home after work
2. Avoid caffeine at least one hour prior to going to bed
3.Beware of using alcohol or other drugs as a means of falling asleep or enhancing energy
4. Learn relaxation techniques and utilize them as part of a set bedtime routine
5. In the room where you sleep eliminate as much light and noise as possible; keep the room as cool as possible.
6.Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast no matter what time you wake up. This meal should be high in protein.
7.Avoid eating fried food especially late at night.
8.Discuss with family and friends the impact shiftwork is having on both you and them.
9.Let family and friends know how they can be supportive.
10.Try to eat at least one meal together with family.
11. Schedule times that you can spend with family and friends.
12.Engage in some exercise routine at least 3 times per week.