Help shiftworkers, help the company

Shiftwork – defined as working either a night shift or rotating shifts – is hard on people.

Shift WorkersThey usually don’t sleep as well, which can lead to a host of issues, including fatigue, impaired concentration and problem-solving ability, stress and mood swings.

A study of more than 30,000 Canadian shiftworkers found that they were twice as likely as day workers to be injured on the job. That rate is five times greater between midnight and 6 a.m., and 15 times greater between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Shiftworkers often don’t eat as nutritious a diet as day workers. Their social life can be diminished or harmed because their schedule is out of synch with that of most of their family and friends. And extreme sleep deprivation is associated with a whole list of health problems.

But there are some steps the company and individual employees can take to minimize the negative effects of shiftwork. Here are a few:

  • One of the most important things companies can do is to provide opportunities for employees to nap on the night shift. Research on circadian rhythms recommends that employees working nights take 20-minute naps “as needed.”
  • Employers should keep the workplace brightly lighted at all hours to promote alertness.
  • The less frequent the shift rotations, the better. That is, employees should stay on each shift as long as feasible, rather than changing frequently. The least stressful shift rotation is from day to evening to night – not from day to night to evening.

Employers could help their shiftworkers better handle the stress their hours bring by encouraging them to consider the following tips:

  • It is beneficial to take a short nap (no longer than 30 minutes) before your shift, but turn on bright lights when you get up so you will not feel groggy when you get to work.
  • Good sleep practices include keeping your bedroom cool, quiet and dark. When it is light outside, use room-darkening shades or wear a sleep mask. Turn off your phone. If there are noises you have no control over, such as lawn mowers or traffic, wear earplugs or turn on a fan to block them out. Stick to the same sleep schedule when you have only a day or two off.
  • Talk to friends and family about your sleep and work schedule, and ask them not to wake you.
  • A fit, healthy body can handle shift changes better than an unwell, frail or overweight body. Therefore, get regular exercise and eat nutritiously. Do your workout before your shift – this helps your energy level at work and helps you sleep better after work. Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Minimize sugar, junk food, alcohol and caffeine. Taking your meals to work is a good strategy if the only alternative is junk food or fast food.
  • Be creative about connecting with friends and family when you are on a late shift. How about meeting people for breakfast? They will be heading to work while you will be getting off work.

Plan ahead to make good use of your days off. Schedule the activities you enjoy with friends and family that you can’t do during your shiftwork.

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