Shift work poses a real challenge to the body

By Tyler J. Moffitt
The Safety Advocate

Statistics Canada reveals that, at any given time, roughly 30 percent of Canadian are a shift worker.
I’ve been a shift worker since the mid-1980s, and have experienced over the years the challenges that shift work brings.
Who are shift workers? They include police, fire and rescue, and paramedic services, health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes, industrial manufacturing, the transportation industry, and mail/courier services.
Then there’s jail/prison staff, security guards, group home staff, social workers, construction workers, relief workers, TV and radio staff, and those at call centres.
More Canadians than you’d expect work a 12-hour shift from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next day. But people are not nocturnal, and the body doesn’t take well to working the night shift.
As well, working more than 48-hours in one week can take its toll on the body. Therefore, getting adequate rest and sleep without interruptions is vital to recuperating.
Working at night and sleeping during the day is opposite to the body’s “biological” clock and what the body naturally wants to do.
This may make sleeping difficult. It also may mean the body cannot recover as quickly from physical and mental exertions/demands.
Sleeping during the day can be a challenge. For instance, during the day is when you have people phoning you.
You can shut off the ringers, but many do not because of various reasons.
Shift workers also have to contend with people who go door-to-door during the day, and even knocking on your door at 9 a.m. on the weekend.
Some people who are shift workers struggle with it. And once their sleep is disturbed, they cannot get back to sleep.
I work a four-on/four-off shift, which consists of two 12-hour day shifts (6 a.m.-6 p.m.), followed by two 12-hour night shifts (6 p.m.-6 a.m.) and then four days off.
I, myself, need at least a two- to three-hour nap before my first night shift. I know of one former shift worker who needed a four- to five-hour nap before their first night shift.
When I get home after my first night shift, I usually roll into bed around 6:30 am and try to sleep until 3 or even 4 p.m.
I need a good eight-nine hours of sleep after my first night shift. After my second night shift, which is my last one and the start of my first day off, I sleep until about noon.
Some of my co-workers are amazed that I get the amount of sleep that I do because they cannot, and some really struggle with sleeping, especially when they are on night shift.
Most people who are not shift workers are totally oblivious and unaware of how many people may be sleeping during the day.
I know of one shift worker that uses a best practice by hanging a sign on their door that states: Shift worker sleeping. Do not ring the doorbell or knock on the door.
In terms of recommended sleeping practices, many shift workers use earplugs when they are sleeping. But this practice is not recommended due to the fact that if smoke alarms, CO (carbon monoxide), or other types of gas alarms are sounding, you may not hear them.
When I sleep during the day, I like to have the bedroom as dark as possible and, in some cases, have worn a black sleeping mask for my eyes.
Like it or not, the reality is caffeine and shift work go hand-in-hand. However, there are health concerns with caffeine usage.
Research has shown it can take 10 hours or more for the body to get rid of 80 mg of caffeine, which is only one small coffee (a medium coffee contains 100 mg, with a large being 140 mg and an extra large 200 mg).
For many shift workers, caffeine is what keeps them going during the night shift. But for many, they pay the price when they go home in the morning and try to get some sleep.
So, if you are a shift worker, I know how you feel (well, sort of).
I know that each individual is different, and shift work can affect and challenge us all in different way.

Tyler J. Moffitt is a volunteer firefighter and emergency responder, as well as a continuous improvement advocate.

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