Night Shift Workers in a Whole New Light

Will work for sleep. Shift worker disorder is real.

Posted Jul 19, 2011

Whether you're a night owl or not, staying up all night influences your well-being.

According to a new survey conducted by the Men's Health Network in partnership with the biopharma company Cephalon, 79 percent of shift workers such as air traffic controllers, IT professionals, health care workers, and firefighters report that their non-traditional work hours have a negative emotional, social and physical impact on their lives. In the name of full disclosure, the folks who supported this effort (Cephalon) are really pushing their 'wakefulness drug' called Nuvigil. I realize not everyone has a 9 to 5 worklife (I certainly don't), and I'm not pushing medication here to manage your routine. But the findings themselves are interesting and put shift worker disorder in a whole new light. It doesn't help to tell a policeman who has the graveyard shift that a little yoga will keep him awake. It won't. The human body is meant to respond positively to daylight. If you're never exposed to it, that can be an unhealthy thing.

From a productivity standpoint, overnight workers are biorhythmically challenged (meaning, they should be asleep like everyone else!):

  • Three in ten surveyed (29 percent) said that they have dozed off at work in the past month, most of them multiple times, with another 37 percent saying they've come close.
  • One in three shift workers have missed work altogether at least once in the past year because they were too tired to go.
  • Nearly a quarter (24 percent) report making mistakes on the job at least once in the last month because they felt sleepy.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) say that when they're tired on the job, they worry more about their job security than their own safety.
  • Of the 52 percent of shift workers who want a change in job or hours, most don't think it will be possible in the near future and 44 percent feel that they will have the same job until they retire.
  • Top work concerns for shift workers include hours/schedule (34 percent), options if they lose their job (32 percent), job stability (28 percent) and how to look for a new job (25 percent).

The most shocking findings were related to the far-reaching impact working at night can have on someone's every day life:

The average shift worker has not exercised in 24 days, read a newspaper the day it came out in 30 days or had sex in 54 days.

No sex? No workout? A full two-thirds of those surveyed said they'd sacrifice their next three vacations to feel fully rested all the time.

The power of slow can help by looking at how you spend your time. If most of your wakeful hours are at night, consider a sun simulator to get the necessary light rays your body requires. Pay extra attention to your self-care including your Vitamin D intake. Get a full eight hours of sleep daily. Drink plenty of water.

My heart goes out to all those people who are up at night while the rest are not. Thank you for taking care while we sleep.

About the Author

Christine Louise Hohlbaum

Christine Louise Hohlbaum is the author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World.

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