According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 15 million Americans work the night shift. That is a substantial portion of this country’s workforce. Unfortunately, working a night shift job comes with an increased risk of fatigue, loss of focus and attention, and decreased cognitive function. These negative effects can be especially dangerous for emergency workers such as doctors, EMTs, and police officers, as well as the people they are responsible for helping. Additionally, fatigued night-driving truckers, workers driving home from their night shift jobs, and those they share the road with, are equally at risk. Psychologists are studying the effects of night shift work to determine ways of reducing the risk of accident and injury for workers and the public alike.
Staying up all night works against the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Our circadian clock acts as a timer, controlling mood, body temperature and alertness, and regulating the release of certain hormones. For example, our brains have evolved to relax after dark and to become alert at daybreak. Night shift workers essentially have to fight their bodies’ natural metabolic processes and rest period. Even with plenty of sleep during the day, it is impossible to completely make up for this level of circadian misalignment.
Unfortunately, most emergency workers have to work the night shift at least periodically. Their jobs require them to be alert at all times, and to quickly and effectively make life-or-death decisions. In addition to night shift work, rookie police officers are often required to work a combination of daytime hours and night hours. This type of schedule is even worse. In addition to fighting its natural, circadian rhythm, the body becomes doubly confused.
Even when night shift work is not required, the higher hourly wage is often enticing for young police officers and other emergency workers. According to recent research, 40 percent of this country’s police force suffers from some type of sleep disorder or chronic fatigue.
Tips For Combatting Night Shift-Related Fatigue and Cognitive Impairment
Although avoiding night shifts and getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night is ideal, this isn’t a practical option for many people. So, how do we help night shift workers combat fatigue and adapt to their schedules?
Symptomatic relief: For short-term night shift work, such as during doctor residencies and rookie police training, workers can drink coffee at night, and take a sleeping pill or natural sedative (such as Valerian root) in the morning. Of course, long-term use of stimulants and sedatives can have a severely detrimental effect on the body, so psychologists only suggest this strategy for short-term use.
Shift the body’s circadian rhythm. The following practices may help the body adapt to working during the night and sleeping during the day. When night shift workers are exposed to bright intermittent light while at work, wear sunglasses on the drive home, and sleep in a very dark room, it can help align their circadian clock to the challenging schedule.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Boston’s Personal Injury Law Firm
Even self-proclaimed “night owls” can suffer sleep disorders, fatigue, and cognitive impairment from night shift work. This fatigue and lack of focus can be dangerous on the job as well as on the drive home. Unfortunately, many people, including emergency workers, have no choice in the matter. If you’ve been injured on-the-job, in a car accident, or as a result of another’s negligence, Altman & Altman, LLP can help. With nearly 50 years of experience in personal injury law, our skilled, knowledgeable legal team takes pride in protecting the rights of accident and injury victims across MA. You may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact us today for a free consultation about your case.