Postdate: 29 October 2018
At 7 o'clock in the morning, we discuss how the night went, eat a small meal and then hit morning rush hour on the way home for a well-deserved sleep: this is a normal working routine for nurses because they are used to regularly working night shifts. Night shifts not only disturb sleep, but also have a major impact on your personal life.
Disruption of the body clock
In the Netherlands, 65% of people regularly work outside normal office hours, and this trend is slowly increasing. Working in shifts, especially night shifts, disrupts the body clock. The body clock controls various processes in our body, including the circadian rhythm. This is what both makes us feel sleepy at around the same time every evening and then wakes us up again at around a certain time in the morning.
Shift work results in ‘abnormal’ sleep and working patterns. The body clock cannot fully adjust to the changing and constantly alternating rhythm, the consequences of which can be acute insomnia during sleeping hours and sleepiness and fatigue during working hours.
Increasing health risks
Research shows that more mistakes are made at work as a result. In addition, a greater number of accidents take place, one example of which was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Another risk is the development of health complaints. Working night shifts increases the chance of developing gastrointestinal complaints, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men, and psychological problems. It also has a huge impact on family life, with 21% of workers often or very often missing out on family activities.
A sensible approach to coping with night shifts
There are several possible ways to limit the harmful effects of working night shifts and to encourage your body clock to adapt:
1. Take a nap.
It’s helpful to take a short nap just before starting a night shift. It helps you to stay alert for longer and partly compensates for the sleep deprivation.
2. Make use of bright light.
Bright light is helpful because of its stimulating effect and its ability to slow down the sleep rhythm.
3. Wear sunglasses in the morning.
Finally, it is a good idea to wear sunglasses as you return home in the morning so that you can help prepare your body for sleep and best adapt its rhythm.
Want to find out more about improving your sleep when your working patterns are constantly changing? You can also take a look at the vlog on shift work and follow the tips in the Tsuru App.