Surviving the Night Shift

night_shift_securityI worked campus security as a junior in college. My job was to walk around campus (or occasionally ride a Segway) and make sure everything didn’t devolve into utter chaos.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any historical figures coming to life. It was more, “OMG my laptop’s been stolen, I only left the library to go to Starbucks two hours ago!”

Dead serious.

There were a few days when my shift ended at 11 PM, which was an hour after the night shift security workers went on duty. These guards were legit night shifters: they started at 10 PM, and worked until 6 or 7 AM.

I also had two roommates who worked as restaurant servers, and while their typical shifts started around 6 PM, many times they would get home well past midnight and go to bed around 3-4 AM.

And I have a cousin who not only is a full-time night shift worker at Walmart, she’s a single mother of a young child.

All these firsthand observations, plus this study, got me thinking. How would wellness programs need to work with night shift employees?

We can't forget the nurses and doctors among us!

We can’t forget the nurses and doctors among us!

We’re remarkably biased toward day shift workers in this country. It’s understandable: the vast majority of the employed work during the day and sleep at night. We don’t often see the night shift in action.

Molding wellness initiatives to fit the needs of night shift workers is imperative, because they face a unique set of challenges that day shift workers don’t.

As the study above describes, the body’s circadian clock controls many different body mechanisms, including aging and metabolism. When that clock is off, the risk for obesity and other metabolic disorders goes up.

Night shift workers are at the highest risk for these problems. They turn the natural circadian rhythm on its head by working through the night, and then might have to deal with daytime demands like tending children or going to doctor appointments.

The common result is sleep deprivation and/or low serotonin levels, both of which are linked to depression and anxiety. Low serotonin also plays a hand in influencing poorer health habits, which means higher waist-to-hip ratios, triglyceride levels, insulin levels, and blood pressure.

That’s a prime recipe for obesity, diabetes, and other health problems that make medical costs skyrocket.

So, what can your wellness program do to give night shift workers a helping hand?

The first thing you must impress upon them is the importance of quality sleep. Outside of getting close to eight hours a “night,” they need to realize that just trying to sleep in a typical bedroom isn’t the brightest idea.

Well, it is the “brightest” idea — which, ironically, is the worst idea. Sleeping during the day necessitates taking special measures to ensure total darkness in the bedroom. Have your night shifters get eye masks and blackout curtains. When the two are combined, they do a wonderful job of blocking sunlight.

The next thing to do is to look at full-spectrum lighting. Invest in it if you can. These lights mimic natural sunlight, and do an admirable job of getting indoor night shift workers’ brains to think it’s daytime.

With the special hormonal challenges night shift workers face, it’s even more important that they nourish their bodies well. Sleep problems increase the allure of junk food, which of course stokes the fires for weight gain and diabetes risk. Get night shifters away from the junk as much as humanly possible.

This means nixing snack food vending machines and improving their knowledge of healthy eating and cooking. Consider challenges that reward employees who bring healthy meals to work.

Doing all this should help night shift workers maintain a fairly healthy lifestyle, but even then it will still be difficult.

What does your wellness program do to help the people burning the midnight oil?

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2 Responses to Surviving the Night Shift

  1. healthdocroy says:

    Your new bio is great!

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