Shift work & Fatigue

What is shift work?

Shift work is work that takes place on a schedule outside the traditional 9 am – 5 pm day. It can involve evening or night shifts, early morning shifts, and rotating shifts. Many industries rely heavily on shift work, and millions of people work in jobs that require shift schedules.

Shift work is vital in many industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, emergency services, transportation and accommodation to name a few. Shift work can provide better arrangements for family or childcare, can be personal preference or may be the required structure from the employer. What we do know is if you employ shift workers, they need to understand the health associations with this type of work and take action to prevent the accumulation of poor health that may follow.

How does shift work affect health and well-being?

Unfortunately shift work can be very disruptive to employees health & well-being by affecting multiple parts of their life.

SLEEP: the constant disruption to sleep patterns, circadian rhythms and life schedule can reduce sleep time, resulting in poor sleep, and can lead to shift workers developing “shift work syndrome”. A cycle of poor sleep health leading to difficulty getting too sleep, difficulty staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, a lack of energy, irritability and ultimately leading to daytime tiredness which affect quality of life, relationships and the employees health.

It’s important that shift workers learn specific techniques for improving sleep and managing schedules, to allow for the best sleep and health possible.

EXERCISE: opportunities to participate in physical activity are decreased for those working night shifts, as many sports and leisure facilities operating hours are based around those who work day shifts. Although some shift workers are aware of the benefits of physical activity, the conflict in scheduling makes it difficult for them to lead physically active lives. Another barrier to leisure-time physical activity in this group might be the increased fatigue and disrupted circadian rhythms that occur with shift work.

New research which demonstrates the power of short duration, high intensity exercise sessions which can be fit in around a shift workers schedule maybe all one needs to help alleviate this current problem amongst this group of workers.

DIET & LIFESTYLE: Shift workers have poorer health-related lifestyle behaviours, like diet, smoking and physical activity, than non-shift workers. Recent evidence suggests that 73% of nurses who work shifts do not eat sufficient servings of fruit and vegetables, and 17% smoke regularly. Lack of time to plan for meals, poor selection of available food at worksite, a poor understanding of dietary choices and a lack of support from family and the worksite all contribute to this modifiable risk factor.

S&H provide an Onsite sleep education seminar and follow up consultations with Exercise Physiologists to address physical activity and Dieticians to address food intake.

SOCIAL & FAMILY LIFE: absence of family life because of the work schedule, loss of relationships, and social activities, among others is a real stressor for a shift worker. Managing family, social life, health and time can be a real challenge. Opportunities to improve health at work through education, consultation or activity are welcome additions to many employers leading the field.

CHRONIC DISEASE: shift work has been correlated to the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension. This is a complex relationship involving all the factors discussed above, more fatigue, less exercise, poor dietary choices, poor time management, more stress and anxiety and a lack of education on how to address these competing factors.

Lifestyle intervention programmes driven through education and consultation have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic disease. However, the first step is to gain an understanding how shift workers spend their time, in order to inform the development of tailored and targeted intervention programs. If you have any questions or queries please dont hesitate to contact us at S&H.