Shift Work — How can it be managed?

Over 20% of the American work force is working night or alternating night and day shifts. Often, shift workers work more hours per week and per year than normal day workers. Regardless of total hours worked, perpetual night work or changes back and forth between day and night work is very hard on a normal body. There is often a social tendency to change to a “normal” schedule on days off by skipping some sleep so as to share time with family members, leading shift workers into an almost constant state of sleep deprivation. Errors at work are much more likely to be made by night shift workers than day workers. Job dissatisfaction and marital difficulties are more likely in shift workers even if pay rates are better for night work.

There are a number of recommendations that can help shift workers to be happier, healthier, and more productive. Some ideas may not seem suitable to management, but the long-term dividends in productivity and worker satisfaction could make their incorporation in the worksite more routine.

  • For rotating shift workers, try to arrange for rotations no more frequently than once very three weeks, going from day shift to evenings to night shift, not in reverse.
  • Have very bright lighting in all work areas during work hours.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks from the end of the shift on if you are planning to sleep on arrival home.
  • On days off before a shift change, try to work up to the new schedule gradually.
  • After working all night, wear very shaded sun glasses on the way home to avoid light exposure that would arouse the brain for a new day.
  • If you are on constant night shifts, maintain as much as possible the same sleep-wake and eating schedules throughout the week, even on days off.
  • Use naps judiciously and often so as to get enough total sleep in a week. Seek to add hours of sleep sufficient to sum up to meet your needs.
  • Keep the sleeping room as dark and quiet as possible during your sleep time. Inform family and friends about your special needs to keep calls or visits during sleep time to a limit.
  • Be aware that there is a new medication approved for shift workers to allow them to be more wakeful at work and attentive for the way home.

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