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Look Out for Health Problems When Working Nights

By Paul Rothbart

People talk about the 9 to 5 grind. It's been traditionally viewed as the norm. Work all day, come home in the evening. Sleep at night. But for a huge number of people, this is not the schedule. Industry, commerce, healthcare, and other fields never sleep. There are many employees who work overnight shifts. These generally pay better, but nighttime workers pay a price for their health. Human beings evolved as diurnal creatures and react to cycles of light and dark. Sometimes, working overnight can't be avoided. There are things you can do to counter the health problems.

Health Risks of Overnight Shifts

There has been a significant amount of research into the kinds of health risks working at night can impose. Studies conducted in China and The Netherlands in 2017 found that employees who work night shifts were 29 percent more likely to become obese. Obesity is connected with many chronic diseases and has been shown to shorten lifespan. Another Chinese study of women who have worked at night for a long time found that they are 19 percent more at risk for breast, gastrointestinal, and skin cancer.

Fatigue

The National Safety Council has determined that 13 percent of workplace injuries are due to fatigue. Switching things around to sleep in the day and work at night is not that simple. The body's circadian rhythm responds to sunlight. It triggers the sleep response at night. Late shift workers often have trouble staying alert and that can cause carelessness and accidents. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that 74 percent of employers underestimate the level of fatigue and the impact it has on their workers. With a lack of understanding, overnight workers are often not provided with sufficient protection.

Ways to Fight the Problem

There are things that both employers and employees can do to minimize the negative health impacts of working overnight. Providing breaks every one to two hours, more frequently during intense work, will help with alertness. Longer meal breaks are also advised. Overnight shifts should ideally be no more than eight hours long. Workers should be given at least 10 hours between shifts to allow for a full eight hours of sleep.

Employers can do things to help themselves. Taking a walk before starting work, preferably in daylight can help to wake you up and stay alert. Caffeine is helpful but should only be consumed during the first half of a shift so it doesn't interfere with sleep later. 

Working at night may be the only viable option for some people. Millions do it. But it can have negative health effects. It's important to take these seriously and take steps to protect yourself.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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