Many people grumble about working shifts, saying that they interrupt their family and social life.
If one works all night, say Friday until Saturday, they have to spend part of daytime Saturday asleep so they can wake up later in the afternoon and do a little indulging during whatever hours are left. But the worst part of it is that Sunday becomes a write-off as well as the body is still negotiating for normalcy after a sleepless Friday night and the little pampering one might have been subjected to later Saturday evening.
Then Monday comes too soon and applies pressure all over again, bringing stress with it. The last thing on the scene is burnout, which is the cumulative result of stress.
Of stress, the Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research says you may be more prone to burnout if:
* You identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between work and your personal life
* You try to be everything to everyone
* Your job is monotonous
* You work in the helping professions, such as health care, counseling, teaching or law enforcement.
Burnout, it says, is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations.
The question of whether work hours and schedules affect people’s health has been actively reviewed for a range of work patterns including shift work and overtime, says the Center for Health and Environment Research at the University of British Columbia. The Center says research in these areas indicates that shift work, and, in particular, night work can interrupt sleep patterns (G. Kuhn, Circadian Rhythm, Shift Work and Emergency Medicine), can aggravate existing medical conditions and increase the risk of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and reproductive dysfunctions (AJ. Scott, Shift work and health, 2000).
There is now growing evidence that casts a suspicious and uncomplimentary eye on the effects of working in shifts.
Rotating shift workers may lose up to four hours of sleep a day “as a part of shift work sleep disorder.” It is most often reported due to night and early morning shifts.
In Australia, for example, 2 to 5 percent of the population is thought to suffer from this disorder, which can leave sufferers anxious and depressed in addition to being exhausted.
James Anthony (Hard Work on Shift Work) says rotating shifts are regarded by researchers and worker bodies as not only the most stressful but have serious health risks.
In August this year, Healthday News, quoting a new study, proclaimed that people who work days some weeks and nights another week can now rest assured that there’s a chemical basis for the fatigue they feel.
“Argentinean scientists have found that rotating shift workers have lower levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps regulate sleeping and waking patterns, according to the new data,” said Healthday News in reference to researchers at the Universidad de Buenos Aires who analyzed data from 683 men and compared serotonin levels among 437 day workers and 246 rotating shift workers. Day and night work periods started at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Reporting in the August issue of Sleep, the researchers found that the day workers had higher levels of serotonin.
The findings, says study author Carlos Pirola, may help scientists “understand the mechanisms related to the circadian rhythm desynchronization (the disturbance of the body’s natural time clock) imposed by the rotating shift work regime”, adding that the findings might also lead to new and better treatments to help fight shift work-linked fatigue.
“A lack of quality sleep may put workers at risk for injuries on the job. At the very least, the quality of their work may suffer.”
Tempering with the circadian rhythm is even worse for parents on various shifts as documented for the first time in a major study linking night and evening work by parents to poor school outcomes and behavior problems in kids. The study by Jody Heymann, Director of Policy for Harvard University’s Center for Society and Health, found that children with at least one parent working evenings are more likely to score in the bottom quartile on math tests. Also, the children of parents who work nights are nearly three times as likely to get into trouble and be suspended from school.
The research published in Dr. Heymann’s book, “The Widening Gap,” controls for the effects of family income, and the parents’ education and marital status. It also controls for kids’ ages, because workers with older children are more likely to take evening and night jobs. The effects were the same when either the mother or the father worked the odd hours.
Reporting in The Wall Street Journal On-line, Sue Shellenbarger said that while the results may seem surprising, “we know shift workers tend to have more health and social problems, from heart trouble to divorce; why would their children be immune?” Dr. Heymann, a noted researcher whose predictions concerning the African AIDS epidemic won world-wide respect, used a reliable, long-term Labour Department study of 4,689 families. Her work echoes findings at Oldenburg University in Germany that kids with shift-working fathers had fewer friends, sports and club memberships.
Quick changes – doing a late-finishing afternoon shift followed by an early-morning one – are a regular occurrence, particularly in nursing, and there is growing evidence of health risks to shift-workers.
Figures show that most shift-workers are in safety-critical areas of work such as mining, community services and the transport/storage industry and health. While you may think mining workers are too far away to affect us, think about the dead-tired truck driver on the last few miles of his run near your travel route, or the nurse/doctor dispensing your medicine or helping you in Accident and Emergency and you may think again.
Quite a large percentage of people in Botswana works at night. These include police officers, prison wardens, train and bus drivers, brewery personnel, nurses and many more.
This hits family life and many shift workers find themselves under enormous strains to maintain both their work and families. Night-shift workers and those who work weekends miss out on many family get-togethers.
But that isn’t the worst of it according to the Circadian Learning Centre in the US. Its studies into the issue have shown night-shift workers (from around the globe) can suffer from sleep disorders, tiredness, heart disease, high blood pressure and stomach upsets. They also face a higher risk of ulcers.
In the center’s study of Italian workers, day workers took 12 years to develop ulcers, it was 5.6 years for permanent night workers and only 5 years for rotating-shift workers.
“Shift workers were also more likely to get fat because of unusual eating habits and lack of exercise, they had a higher divorce rate, abuse drugs and alcohol more and suffer depression,” said the study report.
In Finland, the Helsinki Heart Study found that over a five-year period, rotating shift workers had a 40 to 50 percent increased risk of heart disease. Nurses in the United States who worked rotating shifts for six years had a 51 percent greater risk of a heart attack than others on day shift.
Two sleep experts have appeared in the Australian Journal of Medicine stating that night-shift workers are deprived of at least 15 to 20 hours of sleep a week. Leslie Olson and Antonio Ambrogetti said their research had shown that most night workers only got between five to six hours sleep a day.
In what should be a warning to employers of people in high-risk industries, both Olson and Ambrogetti said that workers needed at least 48 hours between night shifts and other rosters to recover. Otherwise, they said: “For workers to go from night shifts to day or afternoon shifts with no break is dangerous.”
Over to you, Workers’ Safety Spotlight!