How Does Night Work Affect Your Health?

How does night work affect your health?

There are many people who let their working day continue into the evening hours. Healthcare workers, security guards and people who travel frequently for work often do this. Several studies show that  night work drastically reduces your quality of life and life expectancy, among other things.

It’s not like we can take this kind of work away. Much of this work is part of the public service, which must also be performed at night. That said, we are being urged by researchers to set limits on the amount of night work we do.

Work that takes place at night

With the increasing number of branches that are open 24 hours a day, the amount of night shifts that must be worked also increases. On top of that, some work simply needs to be done at night, such as thoroughly sweeping the streets or train stations. This is because these places are too busy during the day and cannot be closed just like that.

For example, healthcare services must also be available 24 hours a day. Just think of nurses, doctors and other paramedics who guarantee the health of the population. However, employees do not only perform this work at night. There are also morning shifts, afternoon shifts and evening shifts. In the Netherlands it is legally stipulated that you can work a maximum of 16 night shifts in a period of 36 days. That’s about 140 nights a year. You can then work 7 night shifts in a row at a time.

Woman working on computer at night

What Happens If You Don’t Sleep At Night

When we don’t sleep at night, our body doesn’t get the rest it should get. Our brain is programmed to rest at night. People who work at night rest about 1 to 2 hours less than the average person. People under the age of 35 can generally function fairly normally under these conditions. If they are otherwise comfortable in their own skin, it can feel to them as if they have just worked a day shift.

But we must keep in mind not only the number of hours of rest we have lost, but also the quality of our sleep. Our bodies make a hormone called  melatonin at night. It maintains our standard biological rhythm, allowing our bodies to know when it is day and when it is night.

Because of this, our bodies go through hormonal changes when we don’t sleep at night. This extends beyond just the melatonin mentioned above. For example, the hormone balance regarding, among other things, our digestion and (in women) the menstrual cycle is affected. Therefore, due to sleep deprivation, women may experience changes in their menstrual cycle. According to several studies, it may even increase the risk of certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer. Another shocking consequence of (regular) night work is that 5 years are taken off your life expectancy for every 15 years of night shifts you work.

On top of this, people who perform night work are more often and faster irritated. They are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease, poor eating habits, digestive problems, sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue. Some even find themselves in a downward spiral of social isolation.

The night work of a guard

Reduce the consequences of night work

When we have to work at night it  is essential that you follow these guidelines. This way you can help your body function properly.

  • Actually,  no one over the age of 35 should work night shifts anymore. If possible, it is important to avoid night work if you are over 35. Around this age lies the limit of our ability to recover easily from this type of work.
  • Sleep before going to work,  and preferably when it is dark. Sleeping for an hour and a half before going to work is best. For most this will be from 21:00. We can use the melatonin secretion in our brain by means of some rest before work.
  • Wear sunglasses when you leave your workplace. Leaving work with sunglasses on can trick your body into thinking it’s dark outside. At home you can then close the curtains and forget that it is already light outside.
  • Shut yourself off from noise.  We should do everything in our power to escape noise when we sleep. If we hear a lot of noise during our sleep, it can drastically affect its quality.

Medical Tips

  • Take melatonin pills. You can buy these at the drugstore and they are safe to take. It is, after all, a body substance. If our body is not able to produce enough melatonin on its own, it is very important to replenish this stock ourselves. Take a tablet half an hour before bedtime to simulate your sleep cycle on a hormonal level.
  • Request a health check. As someone who does night work, it’s important that you get tests done to make sure you’re up to the job. Especially for healthcare workers who really suffer from a bad sleep rhythm, this can be an important step to end night shifts.

Sleep is not a luxury, it is necessary. It is a basic need, just like food and drink. We must encourage good sleep habits in everyone  so that we can all benefit from it. That applies not only to us, but also to the indispensable people who do night work for us!

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