Duty instead of sleep: This is how bad night and shift work are for your healthWhoever works constantly in shifts or even always at night is not doing his health any favors – on the contrary. Night work in particular can be dangerous.
Working when others are asleep: this is not uncommon in hospitals, the police or industry, for example.
This not only makes you tired, it is also unhealthy. Night or shift workers can only influence this to a limited extent. But there are a few tips on how to cope better with your working hours.
What are the dangers for people who work nights and shifts??
In first place, according to Prof. Ingo Fietze, head of the Interdisciplinary Sleep Medicine Center at Charite Berlin, diseases of the cardiovascular system such as high blood prere and cardiac arrhythmias – at least as far as frequency is concerned. Metabolic diseases follow in second place.
Night work and cancer
However, nighttime work in particular poses even more dangers, according to a 2019 evaluation by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC):
"Based on what we know now, we have come to the conclusion that night work is probably carcinogenic," explains Prof. Hajo Zeeb of the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology (BIPS) in Bremen, who collaborated on the evaluation.
But why does night work harm us? "The immune system also recovers at night," explains Fietze. Those who work at night and sleep during the day thus have a less well-functioning defense system.
This is also true if you want to catch up on sleep during the day as much as possible: "The quality of sleep is always poorer during the day and you sleep for a shorter time," says Fietze.
Tolerance is a question of type
Some people can cope, others can't. "There are still no predictors of who can tolerate shift work and who can't," says Fietze.
According to Fietze, there are many warning signs that night work and shift work are not good for you: One is unfocused, it happens increased errors or even accidents, one is mentally and physically not efficient, one has bad mood or the memory decreases.
On the other hand, it is normal for shift work to make people tired, says Fietze. "As long as shift workers sleep well on several days off or on vacation, the world is still fine. If they sleep just as poorly during these times as they do during the work week, that's a warning signal that should be taken seriously."
It is better not to work in shifts for people who are already sensitive or have poor sleep, for the chronically ill, for those who have another job, or for those who are very involved in family life.
Larks to the early shift
Most people are considered to be so-called owls: they would prefer to sleep between 23:30 and 2.00 o'clock and get up again between 7:30 and 9:30 o'clock, explains Hans-Gunter Weeb, psychologist and head of the sleep center at the "Pfalzklinikum".
It would therefore be good if people who are early risers anyway – the so-called larks – would take over the early shifts. The late risers would then do the late and night shifts.
When working rotating shifts, Weeb says it's better to work short-rotation shifts: that is, two days of early duty, two days of late duty, two days of night duty, and then a longer recovery break. "This way, the body doesn't even begin to adapt," explains Weeb.