Most people don't think about the additional stress that nurses, law enforcement officers and many other night shift workers experience as a result of working late-night hours. When most people are already sleeping soundly in their beds, millions of night shift workers are just getting to work. Although many of these workers ensure that important services such as medical and emergency care are available throughout the night, they often suffer from the negative impact that this type of work has on their health and personal lives.
Night shift work can have a significant impact on an individual's health because of the way it affects the body's circadian rhythms. These rhythms fluctuate throughout the day and night to regulate many of the body's biological functions. Night shift work causes these rhythms to be out of sync with their regular timing. As a result, night shift workers sometimes experience sleep problems, fatigue, weight gain and digestive problems. Some of these health problems also lead to chronic diseases. A study published in 2001 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that female night shift workers have a higher risk of breast cancer as a result of their nighttime exposure to light, which disrupts the production of melatonin.
The sleep deprivation and fatigue that many night shift workers experience can also cause psychological and emotional problems, including depression, increased tension or irritability and anxiety. Night shift workers might not get the sufficient amount of sleep that their bodies need. Noise, sunlight and other distractions also disrupt their sleep during the day, resulting in chronic sleepiness. Studies have shown that this can lead to depression and the lack of energy needed to engage in a variety of activities that can improve an individual's mood, such as exercising and being outdoors.
The lives of night shift workers can also be severely affected by their work schedules. They experience more problems at home because of the limited time they spend with their children and spouses. Their lack of energy and their health problems can also make it difficult for them to cope with the stress of raising a family and handling marital difficulties. It can also become difficult for them to develop relationships outside of work. They also miss out on other activities like taking their kids to school, volunteering and attending family gatherings.