Staying up all night is not new to the planet. Even cavemen stayed up to guard the camp. Reasons for society to implement shift work hours have changed. Now, aside from emergency services, it is about productivity and money. Nearly 1/4 of workers attend jobs after 5 p.m. Unfortunately shift work leads to all kinds of health issues.
Sleep deprivation is a very serious problem. The cause of sleep deprivation comes from either insomnia or a decision not to sleep when one is able. People often forgo sleep during the day to catch up on their personal responsibilities, to go to college, or to attend another job. Whatever the cause, lack of sleep leads to a myriad of work and health problems.
Impairment: Sleepiness can cause symptoms resembling those caused by alcohol consumption. Employees who are sleepy on the job are prone to errors and accidents. If the job is mundane and the worker is tired, the employee starts to perform on auto-pilot with less problem solving and decision making abilities available to them. This is fine until something unusual comes up at work. After work, the possibility of having a car accident is increased.
Depression: Many shift work employees are using anti-depressants to deal with difficulty of getting to sleep.
Absenteeism: Employees who think they can handle missing sleep eventually need to take days off of work to catch up. The employer, in turn, tightens up rules about being absent. Often times, the employee loses his job in this scenario.
Behavior Problems: People who are extremely tired can become very irritable. They have melt-downs when communicating with family, friends and co-workers. Suddenly small problems become hard to tolerate.
How to Help Shift Workers
We will probably never see an end to shift work, so it is best if employers implement policies to lessen the ill effects of night jobs. It is to the advantage of the employer to help their employees because they will have to deal with less absenteeism and fewer workplace accidents.
-Training is one way to help shift workers. If they are well prepared, they will have to think less. Good procedures can assist a tired brain.
-Access to healthy snacks is also a great benefit to people working on 2nd and 3rd shifts. The body processes food differently in the hours when it expects to be asleep. Workers reach for quick and unhealthy snacks in an effort to obtain some energy. If they do eat a larger meal in the middle of the night, it might cause them to gain weight and become even sleepier.
-Staff scheduling should be efficient. Employers should not take advantage of their employees by making them work excessive overtime especially in high stress positions such as in healthcare jobs. Shifts should be scheduled no more than two 12 hour shifts in a row. Food and rest breaks should be mandatory. Businesses should not allow short staffing and should prepare for instances of deadlines or extra work by assigning extra employees to the shift.
-Employees take your sleep very seriously. Do not volunteer for overtime if you are already behind on rest. Sleep during the hours you are home. Eat well and exercise. Treat your night job as something that you need to prepare for very carefully.
Employers and employees need to become aware of the risks associated with working nights. Sleep deprivation is only one result of working unusual hours. Lowering the risks of health problems and accidents is more probable with proper training and preparation.
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