How night workers endanger their health

Night shift workers are essential to multiple areas of society. However, people may not be fully aware of the dangers such work poses.

The effects of night shifts are not only daytime sleepiness, but also increased risk of traffic accidents, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, Obesity, diabetes and many other adverse health effects.

Gemma Paech, Sleep Health Foundation board member and senior sleep scientist at the Adult Sleep Institute at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, told The Epoch Times that night shifts are potentially dangerous to people’s health. .

“Shift work in general has been shown to be associated with a range of health problems. Therefore, it may be related to physical health. There may be a high risk of failure,” Paech said.

“We believe that performance and mental health are also affected by shift work.”

Epoch Times photo
The city may not sleep, but the sun sets every night. For optimal health, you need to start calming down as the sun sets. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

cancer risk

who (WHO) has classified night shift as “probably carcinogenic”. This is because it increases the risk of developing various cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and rectal cancer.

Paech said two things that are common in shift work can lead to increased cancer risk.

“One is that people may not be getting enough sleep. And two is how long people are sleeping.”

“We have a biological clock in our bodies,” Petchi says. For most people, we sleep at night and stay up during the day. Common among shift workers is what’s called a mismatch between your sleep schedule and what’s going on in your body. ”

She tells us that in the bodies of night shift workers, their biological clock tells them that it’s night when it’s dark, but they sleep during the day and try to wake up at night.

“This creates a lot of problems because they’re receiving signals from the external environment that don’t match what their internal biology or body is trying to do,” Paech said.

“This is where some of the cancer risk may come into play. Shift workers, for example, know they eat at different times.”

Epoch Times photo
Detail of breast cancer cells. During her lifetime, one in her eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. (Photo by American Cancer Society/Getty Images)

influence on diet

According to Paech, night shift workers are likely to eat larger meals at night than those who eat during the day on a regular schedule, which can lead to more stomach problems. there is.

“They may be eating a lot at night, but someone with a normal daytime schedule may be eating during the day, causing a lot of stomach problems. There is a possibility.

“Your digestion is not working well, not working effectively, and that can lead to other problems. I have.”

Paech said not all of the exact mechanisms of this cellular function are known. But quite simply, this confusion between the external environment and what the internal body wants to do is where part of the cancer risk lies.

“There’s also the fact that people who work shifts aren’t getting enough sleep, which may contribute to some of the health effects as well,” she said.

Paech said shift work isn’t going away any time soon, instead employers should pay attention to “regulations and recommendations regarding the number of night shifts and rest periods.”

“But it really depends on the industry and what is considered the norm within that particular industry. About what people can do,” she said.

She also pointed out that there is a lot of debate about whether night shifts should be done continuously or rotating shifts (e.g. from night shift to afternoon to day shift).

(Peter McDiarmid/Getty Images)
“To operate 24 hours a day, you need people at night, so shift work doesn’t really go anywhere. It exists in many industries,” Paech says. (Peter McDiarmid/Getty Images)

Often complex night shift regulations

Healthcare is one sector where night shifts are impossible to avoid. As a result, most countries have set conditions for work, but the regulations are often extensive and complex.

For example, in New South Wales, Australia, 2022 Public Health System Nurse and Midwife State Awards The regulations for night shifts, classified as shifts starting after 4:00 pm and before 6:00 am, stipulate that night shifts shall not exceed 11 hours and shall not include a break of at least 10 hours after the shift. increase. Agreed by employees and local nurse managers.

However, the award also stipulates that: Night shifts are up to 12.5 hours and these regulations are more complex. In this case, the worker must have his unpaid meal break lasting 30 minutes and his 1 hour paid break or two paid 30 minute breaks. Also, an employee may not work more than 3 consecutive 12-hour shifts unless she is able to rote for 4 people once within a 6-week rota cycle.

Additionally, 12-hour shifts may not be worked in combination with overtime, but no more than half of the shifts in the roster cycle must be night shifts unless otherwise agreed by the employee and nurse management.

Additionally, no nurse or midwife will work more than seven consecutive shifts unless the employee requests it themselves. However, nurses and midwives do not work more than 10 consecutive shifts. Also, unless otherwise agreed between the employee and the nursing manager, the employee shall not be permitted to perform more than three of her quick shifts (evening shift followed by morning shift) within her fortnightly pay period. Shift) will not be registered.

Further Recommendations for Medical Shift Work

In 2016, Expert Reference Group on Working Hours in Health Care Made some recommendations.

The reference group recommended a minimum of 11 hours between shifts, no quick shifts or day/night shifts, no more than 3 consecutive shifts, and a maximum of 6 consecutive shifts of any type. The HCW was also guaranteed his one day off per week and was encouraged to employ a forward rotation system when scheduling shifts.

Forward rotation system It’s a strategy used to minimize circadian rhythm disruption, requiring employees’ shifts to be scheduled clockwise, so they go from day shift to night shift to night shift.

According to the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR), the two most negatively impacting shifts for healthcare workers are the evening-to-day shift and the first night shift.

Lily Kelly


Lily Kelly is an Australia-based reporter for The Epoch Times covering social issues, renewable energy, the environment, health and science.