In various industries like hospitality, warehousing, and emergency services, night shifts are a necessity to keep operations running around the clock.
However, the toll these shifts take on the body’s natural circadian rhythm can lead to both mental and physical health repercussions.
An expert has shed light on the potential health risks that night shift workers may encounter, as well as potential strategies to address these challenges.
A representative from Patient Claim Line has stepped forward to bring attention to the perils faced by night shift workers.
The spokesperson has highlighted the risks, effects on health, and possible solutions for these workers, whose schedules often force them to adapt to unconventional sleep patterns.
Mental health concerns
One of the foremost concerns for night shift workers is an elevated risk of mental health issues stemming from irregular sleep patterns. Sleep disturbances, poor sleep quality, and even insomnia can be common consequences. When poor sleep quality persists and transforms into chronic sleep deprivation, individuals may experience mood swings, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, ultimately leading to a lowered sense of well-being and potential conflicts with loved ones.
Furthermore, research from Psychom suggests that night shift workers could be up to 33 percent more likely to experience depression compared to those following a regular daytime schedule. This heightened risk may be attributed to disrupted sleep patterns or limited social interactions due to their restricted schedules.
Night shifts with diabetes and circadian rhythm
Night shift work’s disruption to the circadian rhythm, the body’s internal 24-hour clock regulating sleep, hormone production, and metabolism, may also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This alteration to the body’s natural clock could lead to impaired glucose tolerance. As experts from Diabetes.co.uk have noted, this can subsequently result in the development of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, significantly impacting long-term health.
Vitamin D deficiency
The nature of night shifts—being awake during the night and sleeping during the day—often leads to vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is crucial for regulating calcium and phosphate levels in the body, essential for maintaining healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. Exposure to sunlight is a key source of vitamin D, which becomes limited for night shift workers. SelectHealth points out that this deficiency can cause brittle or misshapen bones, while the NHS adds that it might lead to bone pain due to a condition called osteomalacia.
Night shifts: mitigating the challenges
Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach. While night shifts are integral to certain industries, providing workers with more flexible schedules can prove beneficial. Introducing shifts that alternate between nighttime and daytime work, separated by sufficient breaks, could help workers maintain a semblance of a conventional schedule while still benefiting from sunlight exposure.
Management’s role in supporting night shift workers cannot be understated. Vigilance is crucial in identifying physical injuries and signs of declining mental health, given the demanding nature of these shifts. Companies must prioritise their workers’ well-being by monitoring for behavioural or physical changes and taking appropriate actions to ensure their safety.
The revelations from this expert underscore the potential health risks that night shift workers face, ranging from mental health issues to diabetes and vitamin D deficiency. As industries rely on round-the-clock operations, it is imperative for companies to adopt strategies that prioritise the health and well-being of their night shift workforce. This not only safeguards workers but also contributes to a more productive and resilient workforce overall.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.