Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Health Risks of Working Shifts

There are many serious health risks that come along with work in shifts, like in hospitals or police stations. By the end of this article, hopefully you'll have a better understanding the risks and some idea of how to avoid them.
For starters, a study released in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found an 8% increase in the risk of breast cancer among women nurses who worked between one and 29 years on a rotating night shift schedule and a 36% increase among women who worked more than 30 years in such a position. It is suggested that frequent changes in a woman's sleep schedule leads to disruptions in the melatonin production cycle, which could in turn lead to production of more estrogen, eventually contributing to an increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Next, there are cardiovascular disease and obesity. Researchers have found that the risk of cardiovascular disease grows by 40% when the person works shifts and grows even more the longer the person works nights. Shift work can also lead to obesity because of poor diet and lack of exercise, but also because shift work appears to be correlated with lower levels of leptin, a hormone which plays a major role in making us feel full; less leptin means we feel less full, which means we eat more.
Finally, a less lethal but equally important risk is the correlation between shift work and mood disorders. A 2007 study found that night workers had drastically lower levels of serotonin in their brain, significantly affecting their moods. This is likely why several studies have found a strong correlation between shift work and depression.
So what can you do about avoiding – or at least lessening – these risks?
For one, as always, it's crucial to eat properly and exercise. These will prevent obesity and cardiovascular disease from taking their toll on you, the shift worker. Staying healthy like this could drastically reduce the risks and keep you in the workforce for years to come.
Another possible solution is simply to sleep well. The main problem for workers on the night shift is that, when sleeping during the day, even a tiny amount of exposure to sunlight will wake them up. The solution is for them is to make sure to block out as much of the sun as possible in their bedroom, either with effective blinds or a sleep mask. Some workers returning from a night shift even resort to wearing sunglasses so as to reduce their exposure to morning light and the awakening effect it is likely to have on their bodies.
The best solution, though, is simply to attempt to change one's schedule. Some experts believe that it is better to work stable night shifts rather than rotating day and night shifts. This is not always possible within the current parameters of the job's shift schedule as it is currently designed. A better solution, though, may be offered with modern technology.
Advanced shift scheduling software will allow individual workers to list a preference for shifts that fit their lifestyle and health; managers to define rules that will make for healthier workers; and both to benefit from software that automatically creates error-free shift schedules, based on those preferences and rules, in minutes, not hours. Some shift scheduling software, like EZShift, also includes a platform for managers and workers to communicate with each other, allowing for last-minute shift swaps which could help alleviate the stress that goes along with these sorts of jobs.
In conclusion, shift work can pose serious risks to the health of anyone on such a career path, but taking the proper steps to stay healthy, including using tools offered by modern technology, can help mitigate those risks and ensure a long career.


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