What is shift work?

What is shift work?
Shiftwork is defined as a working rhythm that falls outside the standard. The norm here is the work of 9 – 17 o’clock. Shift work, for example, is the shift that starts in the afternoon and ends at around midnight. Often referred to as “late shift” in US as “swing shift” or the night shift that starts in the late evening and ends in the early morning hours. In English-speaking countries often referred to as “night or graveyard shifts”. In between there are many possibilities and it is not always 8 hours but in the health sector sometimes 12 hours shifts. Most shift workers follow the same shift every day, same-shift model “same shift patten” or even shift shift “multiple shift pattern”.

Until the 1970s it was taboo for women to work in shifts. Since that time, the field of shiftwork has been growing steadily and in all areas. The number of shiftworkers is growing not only in manufacturing, hospitality, health and rescue, but also in sales.

Shift work as “sleep killer”

Shift work is one of the biggest sleep killers. But without any shift work, the refrigerator remains empty.

The inner clock

People working in shifts live and work against their inner biological clock. The inner clock works according to the circadian rhythm. The so-called “circadian rhythm” is anchored in the brain, in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of a brain region in the hypothalamus. The SCN controls various homonel processes throughout our body, including the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, a hormone that stimulates the sleep impulse. We feel tired. This inner biological clock divides our life into a biological night and a biological day.

What is shift work?

The shift worker syndrome

The  shift worker syndrome  affects people in many occupations. These include doctors, nursing staff, pilots, flying personnel, employees in the mining and automotive industries, train drivers, professional drivers, fire brigades, police, people on oil rigs and in nuclear power plants, as well as road workers in winter service.

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Everybody reacts differently to the shift work. More about this topic, if someone wants to get deeper into the topic of shift worker syndrome, you can find the  link here, for example, via the Medizinische Unibücherei .

The so-called owls, ie people who wake up late and can turn night into daytime, are fitter in late night or night shift than early at 6:00 am to the morning shift. The chronotype lark, the so-called early risers, has reached the end of his performance curve at 20:00 o’clock at the latest. In families, the confrontations between the lark, which lolls out of bed at 6 o’clock, and the owl, who only tolerates the smell of coffee at 10 o’clock, regularly lead to moods.

For example, on the subject of moodiness, mild depression and morning light, there is the study “The effect of bright light therapy on sleep and circadian rhythms in renal transplant recipients: a pilot randomized, multicentre wait-list controlled tria” at the  University of Zurich find even more information

Shift work in old age

Especially at an older age shift work for employees is more stressful because of the longer regeneration phase than for young people. According to statistics, the number of people who have to work according to a shift schedule has doubled since the 1970s.

What does sleep medicine say about shift work?

For years, extensive research has been conducted on how shift work can be made compatible. There are contradictory results here, but they agree on one point. Test your chrono and work on it whenever possible.

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A group of researchers argue for the elimination of the changing shifts, ie people would work again permanently night shift. Such as former nurses who worked exclusively on night duty. This eliminates the constant change of the body. Unfortunately, it will be even more difficult to maintain social contacts.

Another group of scientists advocates a shift shift with no more than three-day night shift block with connecting two days off. The shift shift schedule should be forward rotating and reliable. The more employees feel involved in the service plan, the higher the willingness to perform and the motivation.

What is shift work?

A small study shows that employees who are able to experience a reliable service plan design with a high team participation showed even better cardiovascular values. Of course, to make shift work better, there are always new insights and tips.

If you are interested in further information, you can book me for a  lecture.

Two practical tips on working shifts and sleep

Fixed sleeping and standing times

Night shift workers should always go to sleep and get up at fixed times, even on days off and on weekends. If, on days off, sleep is postponed from day to night, experience has shown that it is very difficult to get used to the next working day.

Moving watch times

Shift shift workers can often make adjusting to the new shift a lot easier by moving their sleep or waking times forward one to two hours in the last few days of each shift. In this way the body can adjust to the changed rhythm of the night shift. This tip is also helpful for long-distance travel and time conversion.
However, the family or social situation does not always allow such time shifts. Incidentally, this technique only leads to success if the sleep / waking times prescribed by the shifts are consistently adhered to even on days off. Of course, this also includes a plannable service shift schedule. The  shift worker syndrome  can thus be prevented something.
Even more difficult for night workers and shift workers is the situation for workers on call as they can not make arrangements to accommodate certain sleep / wake times. For them, it is especially important to be always rested. Short naps can be helpful if an irregular sleep / wake cycle can not be avoided for professional reasons.

Extra sleep tip

The biggest triggers for sleep and wakefulness are the light and our stomach. That means sunlight or 10,000 lux daylight lamps will wake you up. Dark tired and my stomach is like a “swallowed alarm clock”. Use this knowledge to adapt your biorythm to your life like the polar night scientists. Shift work can also give free time when everyone else has to work, it depends on the attitude. If you feel like setting your time, shift work can be a perfect life model.
Important:  Although sleep in one piece is healthier than sleep in different stages, shift workers who do not find sufficient sleep during the day should compensate for short sleep times with short naps and get the total number of hours required for a restful sleep. Short sleep periods in between can boost performance, which is often reduced by irregular working hours.

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