Why avoid night shifts?

Edition 30 November 2018, by Sagar Harinarayan

Shift work is very common in jobs based in factories and laboratories. If a manufacturing process in on-going, there needs to be at least one person monitoring the operation. People working through night shifts often say they enjoy doing so, since the serenity and silence available during these awkward hours enhances productivity. While this may be true, night shifts are inherently opposed to the natural way of one’s body, which may create avoidable issues. Let’s define a night shift. It is work carried out by an employee between midnight and 7 am. And there are no laws against one working alone during the night. So that is one problem avoided. However, there are many others lurking just around the corner. Firstly, working night shifts affects the circadian rhythm. Inspired from Latin words ‘circa dies’ that translates into ‘about a day’, the circadian rhythm is a 24-hour body cycle responsible for regulating body temperature, metabolism, adrenalin secretion, blood pressure, sleeping, walking, to name a few. There are over a 100 functions dependent on the regularity of this cycle. Night shifts disrupt this rhythm and cause an imbalance.

Night shift workers usually do not get sufficient good quality sleep. A piece of research published in the Journal of Workplace Health and Safety was based on a study of police officers and showed that those who got less than 6 hours sleep were at double the risk of suffering from bad quality sleep. A different study published in the journal SLEEP, stated that levels of serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) were lower in shift workers, thus making them sleepdeprived. This directly impacts one’s health. According to health.com, a study was conducted in 2009 which showed reduced levels of leptin in shift workers. This is the hormone which plays an important role in regulating weight, sugar and insulin levels. As a result, people working at night are faced with elevated levels of diabetes and obesity risks. The International journal of Cancer published recently that working night shifts increases risk of breast cancer by 30%. This is very appalling! As if this wasn’t enough, the British Medical Journal published a review of 34 studies, blaming night shift for 7 % of heart attacks, 1.6% of ischemic strokes and 7.3% of coronary events, in 2009- 2010. All this can be related to the massive disruption of the circadian rhythm.

Working alone during the night poses a massive risk of physical injury as well. Lack of sleep could lead to sloppy behaviour, if workers feel very tired. And if there is need for any trouble-shooting during those hours, one may succumb to minute mistakes. Unfortunately, these can have dire consequences. If any organization calls in people to work at night, the onus falls on the management to ensure that every person is adequately trained and all possible safety features are functioning well. One of the greatest pleasures of having a day time job is the company of colleagues. One always has someone to talk to, no matter what the situation. However, when working at night, the lack of co-workers and the pin-drop silence can create strong feelings of loneliness. Additionally, insufficient exposure to sunlight may transform a young, bubbly personality into a dull one. These are some well-known causes of depression, and must not be taken lightly.

Therefore, please try and avoid night shifts. But if it has to be done, one must always get a full health checkup done before committing to it. And if possible, negotiations must be held to have a rotating shift with other workers, so that the burden is equally distributed. Stay healthy, stay safe!