Reasons to quit night shift
Many industries require employees working the night shift as a necessary part of the regular workday for working hours. Shift work can create several advantages in terms of productivity and meeting the demands of the market. Still, it can also drastically impact the health of the employees who work these shifts. In particular, employees working the night shift for prolonged periods of time have to face inherent risks of working irregular hours while also attempting to maintain harmony between their work and personal life. In this article, we discuss some of the reasons to quit the night shift
But why is working a shift at night different from a regular day shift, as long as you are getting sufficient sleep? The truth is that the human body is programmed to carry out the systems’ regular functioning throughout the day and restore vitality and energy overnight. When you start working a night shift, you ultimately have to change this regular bodily functions system and reprogram your body to work as per your new schedule. This can be extremely demanding for your body and can leave you exhausted, with damaging effects on your overall well-being.
This exhaustion from working overnight shifts can affect your work and productivity and can have adverse effects on your health and social life. Here are some reasons why you should quit your night shift.
Disruption of the natural sleep-wake cycle
A prolonged pattern of sleep-wake disruption caused by the dysfunction of your biological clock and the tendency to go to bed and wake up at unconventional times can lead to the circadian rhythm sleep disorder. This can result in hormonal imbalances, insomnia or hypersomnia, and fatigue.
Weight gain and diabetes
Since people working night shifts tend to get irregular or insufficient sleep, they are at an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.
Research has revealed that disturbances to the body’s biological clock result in decreased metabolism and can cause a surge in blood glucose levels. Your hormones rule your metabolism and any hormonal imbalances from sleep disruptions will directly affect the metabolism.
The hormone leptin has a key role in regulating blood sugar, weight, and insulin levels. Working overnight shifts can result in the inhibition of the production and circulation of leptin. This results in a whopping decrease in metabolism and imbalances in hormone production. This means that continued sleep disturbances can lead to nearly 10 pounds of weight gain every year.
In a meta-analysis on shift work and diabetes risk, scientists found that particularly in men, working during odd hours could increase the chances of developing diabetes. This study, published in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, revealed that shift workers had a 1.09 percent increased risk of developing the disease.
Increased risk of workplace injury
Working the night shift means working irregular hours that are against your body’s biological clock. This can result in certain crucial functions like attention, consciousness, and mobility being shut down. Even if you forced yourself to stay awake and active, your body would be unable to perform well and be productive since it is tired. This will result in a decrease in attention, focus, and some key motor skills. There are jobs where you must pay full and close attention to your work and extremely detail-oriented jobs. Working these jobs with your key motor and body functions turned off can increase the risk of sustaining injuries.
Insufficient exposure to natural sunlight and essential Vitamin D
When you are working the night shift, you may not be able to get sufficient exposure to natural light, which is the primary source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is vital for your health. It plays an important role in the absorption of calcium and assists with bone growth and restoration. Insufficient vitamin D can, in many cases, even lead to osteomalacia, which is the softening of bones and can lead to fractures. Vitamin deficiency can also lead to other disorders and health conditions such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and heart problems.
You can get vitamin D from foods like yogurt, tofu, cheese, and fish. But the main source of vitamin D from natural sunlight. So not getting sufficient natural sunlight due to overnight work can lead to the mentioned health problems.
Not getting enough natural sunlight can also aggravate your depressive symptoms if you are predisposed to or have a history of suffering from mental illness.
Suppression of melatonin
Melatonin levels remain high during the nighttime and typically decrease during the daytime. Moreover, when you are working shifts at night, you expose yourself to light during the time of night when your body least expects it. This can also result in your body inhibiting the production and release of melatonin. Melatonin plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep and wake cycles of the body. The sudden decrease in melatonin levels can result in not sleeping properly or not getting sufficient sleep for your body’s systems to restore themselves. This can lead to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, which can deteriorate your health and well-being significantly.
Increased risk of gastrointestinal problems
Working the overnight shift for long periods of time, effects like hormonal imbalances and decreased metabolism discussed before can also lead to gastrointestinal problems. According to the National Sleep Foundation, prolonged night shift work can result in a greater risk of ulcers, diarrhea, or constipation. When combined with the other problems and consequences of shift work, it can put you at risk of more serious medical conditions.
Moreover, changes in your sleep schedule will automatically result in a change in your eating habits. When you are awake and working during the night, your body requires more energy to remain active due to the change in regular body functioning during odd hours. To fuel your body, you would have to eat more regularly and during odd hours, leading to a change in your bowel movements. This can further result in having a poor appetite, acidity, and constipation.
Can lead to social impairment
When you are working overnight, you are likely to be unable to maintain a balance between your work and social life. This is because your schedule is bound to clash with the schedule of your friends and family. Since you’ll be working all night and resting during the day, your family may feel neglected as you will not be seeing them enough. Especially if you have young children, they may not understand that you are working and may feel upset that you are not spending enough time with them. Moreover, you will hardly see your friends with contradicting work hours, which can make you feel isolated and even aggravate your mental health and stress.
This can also make your friends feel neglected and ruin your social relationships, affecting your mental health even more. This can also affect your work since you may find it hard to finish assignments if you are working in a bad mood.
Increased risk of heartattack
Studies have shown that people who work overnight shifts are at an increased risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms or premature ventricular complications. Researchers found that women working at least three-night shifts had up to 27% higher chances of developing heart disease than people who worked regular shifts. Moreover, women working longer periods of overnight shifts were at the higher end of the spectrum. Sudden changes in sleep habits and disruptions in sleep can affect blood pressure and circulation, which is why people working night shifts are at a greater risk of suffering heart attacks and stroke.
A study published in the National Academy of Sciences journal Proceedings concluded that lower levels of leptin would lead to an increased risk of serious medical conditions like heart disease.
Moreover, a review of studies from the British Medical Journal revealed that 7 percent of heart attacks between 2009 and 2010 could be linked to working the overnight shift.
Increased risk of depression
A meta-analysis on night shifts and mental health revealed that people who work the night shift have an increased risk of depression, an increase of 42 percent. Getting insufficient sleep or disturbed sleep can worsen your mood and even your day.
Research from the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health showed that the rate of depression was much higher in people who work shifts than people who work regular hours.
Moreover, if you are already suffering from depression or another mental illness, not getting enough sleep and disturbances in sleep for a prolonged time can aggravate your symptoms. This can result in the deterioration of your emotional stability and well-being.
As a matter of fact, insomnia paired with a certain degree of social impairment, known as shift work sleep disorder, can collectively impact your health and increase stress and anxiety levels.
A study in the International Journal on Disability and Human Development showed that shift work could put vulnerable people at a greater risk of developing or aggravating mood disorders.
Another study in the journal SLEEP revealed that people who work the night shift were more likely to experience lower serotonin levels than people who work during regular hours.
A study from 2014 has revealed that working the night shift can impact you at the molecular level. The study took a small group of participants and changed their sleep pattern to be similar to that of people who work overnight shifts. Nearly 6 percent of our genes are timed to be typically active during specific times of the day. In the participants who changed their sleep schedule, this genetic precision had decreased to 1 percent. This can be explained by the disruption of the circadian rhythm, which can dysregulate genes, especially in tumor development. This means that the night shift workers also have an increased risk of developing tumors and are at a greater risk for cancer. In fact, research has shown that, most commonly, night shift workers are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer and colon cancer.
Increased risk of breast cancer
According to a study published in the International Journal of Cancer, women who work the night shift are at a greater risk of developing breast cancer, increasing by a whopping 30 percent.
More specifically, researchers were able to conclude that the risk of breast cancer was obvious in women who had been working the night shift for a significantly long time and also in women who worked the night shift only a few times a week (since their sleep and wake cycles were disrupted more frequently).
However, another study found that working the night shift had little to no effect on breast cancer, so this is still arguable.
Decreased safety at night
Traveling for work at the odd hours of the night may not be safe. Many crimes occur during night time. If you are walking to your office, you may encounter pickpockets, and there is a risk of experiencing mugging or theft. If you are a woman commuting to and from work at night, it may seem even risky and may expose you to potential security threats. Workplaces are also more likely to experience a break-in during the night hours that tend to be inactive. Moreover, many services like security may not be available or accessible during these hours at night.
Reduced access to food
When you are working at the odd hours of the night, you may have limited food options. Especially if you are trying to eat healthily and stick to a balanced, nutritious diet, you may find that your list of options may be more narrow. You ultimately have to settle for snacks and foods with preservatives due to the lack of food access at night. This will result in your developing a poor diet. You will be consuming foods that fill your tummy but provide you with almost no energy and nutrition, so you may struggle with finishing your work and may feel fatigued and tired more often. This also disturbs your body’s eating patterns and can result in poor appetite and digestive problems.
For jobs that require you to stay at your workplace at all times, you would probably have to spend your lunch breaks at the table and take a limited amount of washroom breaks. Staying at your desk for prolonged periods of time can restrict mobility, resulting in complications for your physical health like increased risk of arthritis, back pain, and so on. Moreover, this also limits your body and mind’s time to relax, which can increase stress and lead to problems for your mental and emotional well-being.
Weekends become meaningless
Working a night shift during the workweek and then adjusting your schedule back every weekend can demand your body and leave your body feeling exhausted and fatigued. Making adjustments to your sleep and wake cycles at such a frequent rate for prolonged periods of time can result in detrimental medical problems for your mind and body.
Moreover, due to the frequent change in your sleeping patterns, you may not have the energy to do other things and activities with your family and friends on the weekends. You may also struggle to find the energy to do other things you enjoy. As a night shift worker, you may have no time for any hobbies or activities you enjoy since your work can be demanding and exhausting. This is because you will spend most of the time trying to adjust and readjust your schedule and spend time trying to make up for the lost sleep and restoring your energy.
No access to support services
Most departments are only available during regular hours and are closed at night. In case you need to access support services like IT and technical support, you may not be able to access these services during your night shift. If a problem arises or something goes wrong, you would have no option but to waste a whole work night and wait for the problem to be solved the next day. These can be extremely detrimental to deadlines and collaborative projects. This will also decrease the productivity of the organization and affect reaching the timed goals and objectives. This might also result in a delay in your other work and projects and may ruin your schedule of other deadlines.
Working at night can make you easily bored and lonely
Night shifts are rare, and if you are working a shift at night, you are likely to be working alone. Since there is reduced activity at night, your work environment will be tranquil, both inside and outside your workplace. Some people may enjoy working in a quiet environment, but if you enjoy working in a lively work environment with more people, you will find that you are easily bored and may even feel lonely. For some people working in an eerily quiet environment, especially during the nighttime, may even result in drowsiness and trouble staying awake.
Working in isolation can also result in developing or aggravating your mental health, especially if you are vulnerable and predisposed to a higher risk of developing depressive symptoms.
Ways you can help reduce the health risks of night work
Although the effects of working a night shift can be harmful to your health, sometimes you may have to continue working out of necessity. Some industries also require people working the night shift due to the demands and requirements of the job. In any case, there are ways you can reduce the health risks associated with night shifts. A study by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health compiled a list of tips to reduce the ill-effects of shift work following a research study, which can be incorporated into your schedule if you are still working the night shift.
For instance, workers of the night shift should avoid energy intake between midnight, and 6 am, and instead, should eat a meal before starting and after ending the shift. This way, your appetite and eating patterns do not go through any major changes. They should also consider creating and following a sleep schedule for the daytime. This is done to ensure that shift workers get a sufficient amount of sleep and fewer disturbances while sleeping. If workers are experiencing frequent sleep disturbances or symptoms like insomnia, parasomnia, or hypersomnia, they should immediately consult a sleep specialist. Moreover, workers should avoid stimulants like caffeine, coffee, sodas, and sugary drinks, and depressants like alcohol during their shift. It is also advisable to avoid large meals before sleeping.
Most importantly, it is crucial to ensure that you are getting regular health checkups to assess and diagnose potential health problems at the right time. The IOSH advises the workers aged over 40 years and those working night shift jobs for over 10 years or longer to get more frequent health checkups.
Working during the night’s irregular hours may increase productivity for some but can have extremely detrimental effects on your physical and mental health. Therefore, if working irregular shifts have started impacting your health, and you are experiencing depressive symptoms, anxiety, weight gain, sleep deprivation or sleep disorders, digestive and heart problems, among others. It would help if you considered quitting your night shift.
Working the night shift’s preference ultimately varies from one person to another and is most likely out of necessity rather than personal preference. However, if you start to experience the negative effects of working overnight, you should immediately consider other work options and quit the night shift. There is nothing more important than your health and well-being, and if you are experiencing the negative consequences of work, you don’t need more reasons to quit your night shift.
also read: Can you collect unemployment if you quit job due to stress?