Updated at: 06-05-2022 - By: Jane Brody

How many times have you tried to start your day while you were wide awake in the middle of the night? It doesn’t matter if you’ve slept all day; your body will try to persuade you to stay in bed and sleep some more. After all, the time has passed.

The “graveyard shift” is a common moniker for night shift workers. According to an old tradition, graveyard personnel were on the watch for situations where they had unintentionally put a person in a coffin while they were still alive.

Because nocturnal working hours are often compared to a graveyard, the term “graveyard shift” has been coined.

Which Jobs Normally Include Shift Work?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics categorizes shift employment into three main groups:

How Shift Work Affects the Circadian Rhythm | Sleep Advisor

Shifts that run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays are included in this category. The following are some of the most common night jobs:

  • Workers in the food service industry, including bartenders and servers.
  • Employees in the fields of hairdressing, beauty salons, personal trainers, and other personal care services
  • Workers in retail, real estate, and other sales-related fields
  • Arts, sports, health care, and media professionals, such as musicians and directors

Any shifts that come between the hours of 11pm and 3am are referred to be night shifts. Night shifts can be found in a variety of jobs, including:

  • Medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, as well as paramedics and other first responders
  • Other healthcare support employees, include nursing assistants, mental aides, veterinary assistants, and others
  • Security officers, police officers, fire fighters and those who provide life-saving services
  • Manufacturing and production employees, including bakers, machinists, and others
  • Workers in the transportation and material moving industries, including truck drivers, air traffic controllers, and conveyor operators

A 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift is considered an early morning shift. Shift work is common in a wide range of professions, including but not limited to:

  • Engineers and architects
  • Construction and extraction employees, including carpenters, machine operators, roofers, and others
  • Farmers, fishermen, and foresters are all included in this group.
  • Workers in the fields of aviation and industrial machinery repair as well as telecommunications equipment repair are among those in the field of installation and maintenance.

What Is a Rotating Shift?

A lot of shift work roles have a set schedule, with the same start and end times for each shift and the same work days each week. If you’re looking for a more flexible work schedule, a rotating schedule might be a better fit for you.

A rotating shift’s particular criteria differ from firm to employer. A few of the most often used rotas are:

  • There is a seven-day rotation of shifts at Continental: workers work day, evening, and night shifts. Eight-hour shifts are the norm. Employees are given two or three days off after every seven-day work period.
  • It follows a 14-day timetable known as the 2-2-3 pattern in Panama. For two or three days in a row, employees perform 12-hour shifts before getting two or three days off. During the first and second weeks of the 14-day cycle, they will therefore work on different days.
  • Four weeks is the length of the Dupont system’s rotating schedule. Day and night shifts are rotated around once or twice a month. Three or four days of work, followed by one to three days off, will be the norm. For the duration of the four-week timetable, the worker is given seven consecutive days off.

Employees may find it tough because they have to change their schedule every week or month when working on a rotating shift system. You may simply modify your sleep-wake cycle’s circadian rhythms by moving ahead in time from day to night to early morning shifts, though. Circadian rhythms can be disrupted by rotating backwards or in a random sequence.

Rotating shifts might be difficult for some workers because they have to change their sleep-wake schedule every few weeks. Turning over every five or seven days can be particularly taxing for some people. There are less interruptions to your circadian rhythms when you rotate more frequently — every two to three days or so. However, rotating less frequently permits you to spend more time in one circadian cycle before you need to adjust again.

Pros and Cons of Shift Work

Shift employment has many advantages, including:

  • If you’re more productive when the sun sets, a night shift may be right for you; if you’re more prolific when the sun rises, a shift in the early morning may be right for you.
  • You’ll be able to get to work more quickly because you won’t be stuck in traffic as much during the day.
  • Despite the fact that employers in the United States are not required by law to pay you more for working shifts, some businesses do so as a way to attract employees.

There are some drawbacks to working nights and weekends.

  • People who work irregular shifts are more likely to suffer from shift work disorder, a sleep disturbance. Symptoms include sleeplessness when the person is trying to sleep and excessive tiredness when they are awake, as the disorder is defined. There are many shift workers who have trouble sleeping or keeping asleep throughout the day when they need rest, even if their symptoms don’t progress to disorders. Low levels of cortisol and testosterone, two important stress hormones, can lead to a variety of unpleasant side effects, including decreased energy and libido.
  • Interruption of socializing: Working nights and sleeping during the day disrupts family life, as well as friendships with coworkers.
  • Shift workers are more likely to be involved in an accident due to tired driving, even though there is less traffic to contend with. There are a disproportionate number of collisions involving lone drivers who have no passengers after 6 a.m. or in the tiny hours of the morning.

How does Night Shift Work Affects Our Sleep?

Our circadian cycle is thrown off kilter when we work night shifts. A circadian system is a biological mechanism that repeats itself every 24 hours in a 24-hour cycle. It’s like our body’s own internal timepiece.. In the daytime, it instructs us to be aware and awake, and at night, it tells us to go to sleep. It’s also producing a variety of hormones and chemicals within, which are in charge of controlling things like body temperature, appetite, and digestion. As a result of working these shifts, people no longer have the luxury of resting at night as they formerly did. On the other hand, when the light comes up, most individuals automatically awaken and become more attentive. They will have to work more to get to sleep and stay asleep if they are on this schedule. “Shift-work sleep disorder” is a term used to describe this condition. Insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness are two of the most common side effects (EDS).

How Shift Work Affects the Circadian Rhythm | Sleep Advisor

Effects of Disrupted Circadian Rhythm

Fatigue

Fatigue is one of the most noticeable impacts of ignoring these signals by staying awake when it’s dark and trying to sleep during the day. Their circadian clock tells them to do the opposite of what they’re doing, and they fight it every day. They’ll have a hard time staying awake if they have to do any nightly chores. Getting to sleep at the end of the night, when it’s time for bed, can be a challenge. We can train our bodies to adapt to our new schedules by being disciplined and consistent, but exhaustion is a constant danger.

Sleep Disorders

Shift workers are more likely to suffer from insomnia and excessive daytime tiredness because they are constantly battling their internal clocks. The difficulty in falling asleep occurs because they’re often trying to sleep when it’s daylight, and the rest of the world is active. Drowsiness is prevalent at night since the body’s internal clock is telling us it’s time to go to sleep.

Mood Problems

When people work shifts, they’re more prone to suffer from insomnia and excessive daytime drowsiness. They have trouble sleeping because they try to doze off in the middle of the day when everyone else is still awake. To help you get to sleep, your body’s natural circadian rhythms are urging you to do so.

Decreased Cognitive Abilities

When subjects were tested for cognitive ability, those on a modified work schedule performed much worse than those on a regular schedule. As we age, it becomes more difficult to adjust to a new schedule, which is why those in their 30s and 40s are most affected.

Poor Reflexes

When people are sleepy, their reaction times slow down. Fatigue weakens the brain’s ability to react quickly, resulting in sluggish reflexes.

Weak Immune System

Circadian rhythms are involved in more than just our state of alertness or sleepiness. It also delivers strong signals to the immune system. When the clock is turned off, so are the signals it sends forth. As a result, the common cold, the flu, and even long-term illnesses are more likely to strike.

Poor Decision Making

Poor decision-making is also linked to sleep deprivation. A combination of exhaustion and an inability to concentrate are to blame for this. When the brain doesn’t get the rest it requires, it can also be blamed on its chemical makeup. For just one night, you can rewire your brain and activate your fight-or-flight response. Fight-or-flight mode impairs your ability to think clearly and rationally, as does calm and tranquil mode.

What is Graveyard Shift Work Disorder?

Graveyard shift work disorder is brought on by irregular sleep or work schedules. Those who wake up in the night to go to work or begin their day are at risk of developing this disorder. Sleeping throughout the day and staying awake at night is a need of this disorder’s nature. This is in direct conflict with the circadian rhythm, which governs the body’s internal clock. There are two main symptoms of a messed-up body clock: inability to fall asleep when it is time to and excessive sleepiness during the day when it is time to be awakened. Many people in the armed forces and emergency services, as well as first responders and police officers, are at risk of developing this disorder.

How it Affects our Health

Stress

Chemical and situational factors combine to form stress. Aside from the hormonal imbalance, there’s also a psychological component to the adverse effects. When you’re not on the same timetable as everyone else, it might make you feel as if you’re missing out on important social gatherings with loved ones. In addition, the “graveyard shift” is a peaceful period. It might be a lonely experience for individuals who are up during this time when the rest of the world is asleep.

Health Problems

Shift work problem has been connected to a wide range of illnesses, including cancer. This schedule has been linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. Basically, these workers have a greater chance of developing diabetes and obesity.

Accidents

Sleeping or being drowsy behind the wheel is to blame for seven percent of all fatal car accidents. Additionally, weariness is thought to have a role in many other traffic-related deaths, including those caused by speeding and crashes.

Trouble Concentrating

Shift work disorder can cause mental impairment and difficulties concentration, among other symptoms. Being tired or drowsy can be a factor, as can a brain that’s having a hard time adapting to a new schedule.

Poor Job Performance

Shift workers have a higher rate of absenteeism and mistakes than those who work a regular schedule. Another issue that affects job effectiveness is the inability to make sound decisions.

Sleeping Tips for Night Workers

Avoid Working a Number of Night Shifts in a Row

WebMD recommends avoiding working too many consecutive night shifts, but your best bet may be to adjust to a schedule rather than constantly make the body adapt to a new plan. Rush University developed a system to help workers adjust to a nighttime work schedule, and after the brief adjustment period, their bodies showed none of the impairments that typically come with the hazards of working the graveyard shift.

Avoid Long Commutes

Avoid working too many consecutive night shifts, but if you can’t get your body to accept a different schedule, it may be best to stick with a regular one. Rush University developed a mechanism to help people acclimatize to a nocturnal work schedule, and after the brief adjustment period, their bodies revealed none of the impairments that often come with the perils of working the graveyard shift.

Limit Caffeine

While caffeine may be necessary from time to time to get you through the night, it is best avoided. An artificially stimulated system at the end of an exhausting shift might produce a continual cycle of insomnia, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Avoid Bright Lights on Your Way Home

Time to relax and catch some shut-eye after a long day at the office. As a result, bright lights should be avoided on the trip home. Take dark sunglasses and avoid errands if you have to travel by public transportation or your shift ends while the sun is out.

Stick to a Regular Sleep-Wake Schedule

If possible, attempt to maintain a regular work schedule even when you’re on vacation. When it comes to socializing, it doesn’t need to be perfect. When you have a day off, try to stay up as late as you can and sleep in until close to midday. It’s still possible to spend time with loved ones if you sleep from 3 AM to roughly 11 AM on a graveyard shift, for example.

Limit Phone Calls and Visitors

Tell your loved ones when you’re going to bed and ask them not to call or text you during that time. Getting up in the middle of the day can make it more difficult to get back to sleep later.

Use Blackout Blinds or Heavy Curtains

If it’s daylight outside, use blackout curtains to create a pitch-black bedroom environment. By creating a cave-like environment, you’ll be able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there psychological effects of working on a graveyard shift?

Do you know what I mean? They’re often ignored. Being on your own during the graveyard shift can be depressing and isolating. The majority of the time, your friends and family members are in bed, too. They’re usually out having a good time when it’s time for you to retire for the night. As a result, it might lead to feelings of loneliness and despair. As difficult as this may be, try to rearrange your schedule so that you can still spend time with the people you care about on your days off.

How Shift Work Affects the Circadian Rhythm | Sleep Advisor

How can a shift work disorder be treated?

Begin by implementing the advice in this section. Even if you have a varied schedule, effective sleep hygiene can help manage this disorder and allow you to lead a normal life. Medications can be provided to assist you stay awake or to help you sleep better in some instances. Many doctors also prescribe antidepressants to improve mood and sleep, but a more natural method is generally the better choice.

How to survive a night shift with no sleep?

Here are some suggestions to assist you make it through the night shift if you’re having trouble staying awake:

  1. Make the most of your “lunch” break by taking a quick snooze. If you go above 20 minutes, you risk falling asleep and being drowsy for the remainder of the night.
  2. Consume sparingly. It is beneficial to eat in order to stay alert, but avoid overindulging at the expense of your waistline.
  3. Get up and go for a walk. Get up and move around at regular intervals. Drowsiness can set in if you sit stationary for too long.
  4. Let’s have a conversation about it. Talk to your coworkers. While alone, listen to a podcast or watch a show and contribute your own commentary. As bizarre as that seems, it isn’t.

Am I at a greater risk of cancer if I do shift work?

According to the simplest answer, yes or no.

Because shift work disrupts circadian rhythms, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) believes it may be a cause of cancer (our internal clock). We can only draw this conclusion based on the results of animal studies and a very little amount of human research.

Conclusion

The fact that over 20% of the population has a schedule that makes it impossible to lead a normal life is not an isolated phenomenon. Maintaining an active lifestyle may need some more effort, but it is doable if you plan ahead.

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