Is shift work bad for our health?
Sep 14, 2021
At night, our body asks for rest, and by day it wants to be activated. This is a maxim of chronobiology, the science that studies the biological schedules to which our body is subjected, but the way of life promoted by our societies based on the division of labor seems that, at times, they do not take into account this phenomenon.
Now... to what extent is it a problem to "force" our biological clock due to the demands of our job?
There are many jobs in which there are night shifts, such as in the health and security sectors. Having to stay awake at night and sleep during the day can pose a lot of metabolic stress if it is not managed well and, as a result, there may be alterations in our health.
Today let's see how shift work affects our health and we will see what can be done to alleviate the effects of night working hours.
- Related article: "Circadian rhythms: what are they and in what biological functions do they intervene"
What happens when we force the biological clock?
Normally, during the hours of greatest sunlight, our body is ready to stay active; this is because
Thus, during the day, our nervous system and our network of hormone-secreting glands coordinate so that our state psychological allows us, as far as possible, to take advantage of the potential of an environment bathed in sunlight, in which there are many things to do.
This changes when night falls, at which point he prepares to rest. Our sleep-wake cycle is strongly determined by the hours of sunshine, being the light of the star king the one that regulates the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating sleep itself and that induces us to sleep when night falls.
Nevertheless, It often happens that in certain work environments such as the bathroom, you cannot always go to sleep at night. Especially harsh is the world of doctors and nurses, where emergencies do not rest and, therefore, neither can health workers afford it. There must always be people who can attend to patients and, therefore, in the health sector there are different shifts, being the worst of them is at night since the body is forced to do just the opposite of what it should, work when it touches to sleep.
But, in general, the demands of a world increasingly oriented towards the global economy and towards the specialization of tasks make that many jobs go hand in hand with the need to adapt to shifts, some of which take place in the middle of the night.
- You may be interested in: "Types of hormones and their functions in the human body"
Possible physical and mental consequences of working shifts
Our body is a biological machine that, when forced, begins to manifest alterations due to the metabolic stress to which we subject it, especially since we rest and eat at hours that were not expected. This wears out especially if we are one of those who change work shift every two per three, since we make our body have to set the biological clock constantly.
All this brings with it several alterations, among which we can highlight:
- Mood: irritability, bad mood, depression, anxiety ...
- Concentration problems.
- Sleeping problems: difficulties falling asleep during the day.
- Reluctance: lack of motivation, more laziness, anhedonia ...
- Eating behavior problems: eating late, more, less, obesity ...
- Early aging: damaged skin, hair loss, wrinkles ...
Burnout syndrome is of special mention (or Burn syndrome), a mental disorder manifested by many workers who are physically and psychologically exhausted due to their employment, something that those who have constant changes of work shifts have all the ballots of suffer. Because you are exhausted in all aspects of your life, burned-out workers are more prone to making mistakes, especially at night that already has a lower performance and worse concentration and reflexes.
In the long term, long night shifts have bigger repercussions. Based on research conducted by Dr. Eva Schernhammer and colleagues with 75,000 nurses and conducted over 22 years, it appears that shift workers, for more than 5 years, were 10% to 19% more likely to die from anything, varying according to the disease. What this research came to say is that there was a significantly increased risk of dying from diseases such as heart disease, cancer, obesity and any other medical condition in this type of population.
- Related article: "Psychology of work and organizations: a profession with a future"
What can be done to avoid these effects?
The measures to be taken to prevent shift work from affecting our health depend on the type of night shifts and the frequency with which we do them. It should be said that it is preferable that night shifts are short and have them only one day a week.
In these cases, the best thing to do is to continue to adapt to the rhythm of daytime life, avoiding that, just at the end of the night shift, going directly to sleep. It is better to hold on a little and stay awake until nightfall, going to sleep first thing at night and thus better maintaining biorhythms.
In case of always having the night shift (for example, night guard) it is best to try to keep that schedule even on possible holidays. His thing is to try to make three or four hours of sleep coincide with what we usually do the rest of the week, in order to be able to rest and not feel so tired the hours of the day that we are going to be awake. In this way, a certain balance between personal and work life can be achieved, although it can be said that working every day at night is difficult.
The worst option is to have two shifts during the day, two in the afternoon and two at night. In this case, a work situation is experienced halfway between day and night, being very complicated. Still, you have to try to live with the daytime schedule as much as possible. In case of having two nights in a row, we should try to go to sleep in the morning, at the end of the first night shift, or else we will start the next night shift very tired. To rest it will be necessary to enable a space in which we are well isolated from the sun, with the blinds lowered or using a mask.
Whatever our case, It is worth mentioning the importance of exercise, a great stabilizer of the biological rhythm and how effective it is is recommended for jet lag. If we move while doing the night shift we will be able to stay awake and not lose concentration, having a more activating effect than caffeinated drinks.
We must also monitor our diet, since maintaining a healthy diet is not only a protective factor address mental and physical health problems, but will also help us better manage the effects of work shifts. evening. An example of this are foods with tyrosine, an amino acid present in cheese, ham, eggs and bread. comprehensive and that contributes to the manufacture of two important neurotransmitters to keep us awake: dopamine and noradrenaline.
Other ideal foods to regulate our sleep, especially to reconcile it, are those that contain tryptophan. This is an amino acid that helps produce serotonin and melatonin, the neurotransmitters that prepare us for sleep and that our body naturally secretes at sunset. Some foods that contain tryptophan are fruits such as bananas, nuts, chicken, turkey, fish, and leafy vegetables.
Secondly, it is very important to modify our meal times as little as possible. In this way we will minimize the impact that shift work will have on our physiological and psychophysical processes. It can be useful to have food prepared for cases in which you do not have time to cook according to your schedule, although the ideal is that the food is as fresh as possible.