Risks of Working the Night Shift
Risks of Working the Night Shift

Do you work the late shift? Alternative shift workers face several hazards. If your work hours occur when most people are asleep and you sleep when most people are awake, you might suffer from the effects Shift Work Disorder, which is characterized by disturbances in sleep patterns, including insomnia, non-restorative sleep, and excessive sleepiness.

People who suffer from SWD (sometimes called Shift Work Sleep Disorder) might feel fatigued at work, especially if they are working extended work hours, which is common in shift work. Other symptoms include impaired cognitive abilities, anxiousness and irritability, unintentionally falling asleep on the job, reduced job performance, and increased incidence of on-the-job injuries.

Who is at Risk?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of the workforce works shifts other than the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift. These alternative shift workers include those who work graveyard shifts, very early morning shifts, evening shifts, and rotating or alternating day/night shifts.

Scientists are not sure why some alternative shift workers suffer from SWD and some do not. People who like to stay up late at night might love working the late shift and be less affected than people who are early risers.

What Causes Shift Work Disorder?

It is natural for humans to be alert during the day and to sleep at night. These natural, circadian rhythms are disrupted by shift work, which means that many of the body processes associated with particular times of the day are disturbed as well.

For example, it is normal for the brain to release melatonin (which causes drowsiness) during nighttime hours. During daytime hours, when many alternative shift workers are trying to sleep, the brain is naturally more alert, which hinders quality sleep. Daytime noises and social commitments can also make it harder for alternative shift workers to get the restorative sleep they need to be healthy and happy.

Job Performance & Safety

Productivity and work performance can suffer during shift work. If you work at night, your biological clock is telling you to be less alert and sleepier, which can slow down your reaction times. Studies show that shift workers have trouble focusing and problem solving.

If you work the late shift, you also are at greater risk of getting into an accident on your commute home. Studies have shown that car accident risks are higher after someone has worked a night shift.

Effects on Mental & Physical Health

In addition to affecting your job performance and safety, working the late shift can also negatively affect your physical and mental health.

Shift work has been linked to mental health problems like depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. It can also cause people to feel disconnected with others in their social network who sleep on opposite schedules.

There have been many studies showing a relationship between shift work and a variety of health problems, including:

  • Breast and prostate cancers
  • Metabolic disorders, including type II diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Epilepsy
  • Reproductive disorders.

If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered an injury because of shift work disorder, we may be able to help. Contact the Evans Law Firm for a free consultation to review your options.