If you are in healthcare, IT, security, manufacturing or in the hospitality or entertainment field, you may have to work shifts. You are just one of the 15 million Americans who do so. Early morning, late night, rotating shifts and overnight shifts are usually the ones that cause most problems.
The main issue is that if you have not adjusted to these crazy working hours, your health and relationships may suffer. Statistics show that 25% of shift workers are suffering from shift work disorder (SWD). Difficulties arise when your circadian rhythms which govern your sleep- wake cycle are out of sync. Here are 7 signs to look out for.
1. You feel excessively sleepy on the job.
Because your body clock has not adjusted to the new timetable, you feel terribly sleepy on the job and you may nod off. This is risky for safety and security reasons and will also affect productivity.
If you are lucky enough to work for a progressive company like Google, you may have the facility just to take a snooze in one of their nap rooms.
If you are operating machinery or looking after an intensive care patient, this is obviously not an option! The best solution is to talk to your doctor. Some shift workers have found it beneficial to take modafinil or provigil as they seem to help to keep the brain alert.
2. Your sleep may be disturbed.
The other side of the coin is that when you finally get to sleep, you may wake up at odd hours, your sleep is restless and you wake up not feeling refreshed.
Your doctor can help you by asking you to keep a sleep journal so that there is a record of when, how long and how you feel when you wake up. There is also the actigraphy test which consists of wearing a device on your wrist which will monitor your sleep- wake cycle. The doctor can then prescribe some sleeping aids based on these results.
Another practical solution is to make sure you sleep in a completely dark and quiet environment. It also helps to wear dark wraparound glasses on your return home during the daylight after a night shift. This may help you to get some more restful sleep.
3. You may be frequently ill.
If you are getting a lot of colds, flu and other illnesses, it could be a sign of SWD. Medical research shows that the melatonin, which is a hormone to help us get to sleep when darkness falls, is a great health booster. It protects the immune system and can also help you to keep a normal weight.
Another reason is that our normal daily rhythms affect blood pressure, endocrine systems, appetite and digestion. Shift work plays havoc with these rhythms and puts basic functions at risk.
The Health Survey for England research shows that shift workers are more often ill and have weight issues. Around half of them have diabetes, chronic back pain and other lung conditions which is considerably higher than the rest of the population.
The best way to resolve this issue is to get plenty of exercise and eat a healthy diet, rather than fast food. It is also wise to cut back on coffee and alcohol.
4. You may have problems with social and family life.
As if it was not enough to have your sleep-wake cycle out of sync, you have a similar problem with your family and personal relationships. It seems almost impossible to fit in family events and social outings. You or your partner and children may feel loneliness and a certain sense of isolation. There are very few facilities for childcare for shiftworker families.
A way around this problem is to plan well ahead so that important events are not missed. Get the support of family and friends to help you make the most of the little time you have with them. As they are not on shift work themselves, it may be easier for them to be more flexible.
5. You may be often exhausted.
In spite of some recommendations laid down by employee unions, some companies insist on a quick return when there is a change of shifts. This often means that there is not enough rest time.
Now, most organizations have rules in place so that there is at least a rest period of 24 hours before the next set of rotation shifts. Doctors recommend taking a nap of 15-20 minutes whenever you can during your rest period and also just before starting work.
This, they feel, will help to reduce your chances of suffering from SWD.
6. You may be emotionally drained.
If you are a fire fighter, police officer or a nurse in a psychiatric care unit, you are bound to be stressed out at times. It is no surprise that this will leave you emotionally drained. You simply cannot help around the house and this may lead to irritability, depression and anxiety.
The fact that some care units are considering 12 hour shifts is alarming if there is insufficient rest time, for example, 2 days on, 2 days off. One solution is to make sure you have things to look forward to and plan accordingly. Companies could also do their part by minimizing stress for their employees.
A happier family will certainly produce a more productive worker.
Let us know in the comments how you cope with shift work and still remain human!
Featured photo credit: Day sleeper…night shift worker/osseous via flickr.com