complex technological industries make shiftwork an inevitable fact of
life. Yet, studies have found that long-term disruptions in Circadian
rhythm can have serious physiologic impact on the employee.
Approximately 20 percent of shiftworkers never adapt to the health and
social strains. The remaining 80 percent experience some degree of
negative effect on their quality of life.
face considerable challenges. It is common knowledge that more
on-the-job accidents occur among shiftworkers, but the affect on the
shiftworkers’ health, family and social life is less
appreciated. Shiftwork has been associated with an increased risk of
cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes
and obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep quality and quantity is typically
lower which compromises immunity. The increased prevalence of health
problems often results in an increased use of medication.
rarely receive training on how to cope with these challenges.
Considering a pre- and post-training study by Circadian Technologies of
Lexington, Mass., this is very short-sighted. Their program
demonstrated improvements in health and fatigue measurements and an
increase in daytime sleep length. Companies who provide shiftwork
lifestyle training see lower rates of absenteeism and turnover compared
to companies that do not provide training.
lifestyle practices are critically important to the shiftworker. For
instance, eating and sleeping are interconnected. Rich or spicy foods
at bedtime make the digestive system work overtime … when it
should be resting. Protein stimulates the brain, helping maintain
energy levels and alertness. Carbohydrates promote calm by stimulating
conversion of the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin.
quick energy burst that comes from consuming sugar products is quickly
followed by a physical and mental "crash." The ideal shiftworker diet
should have a high protein main meal going into the shift. Throughout
the shift, sugar products should be avoided. As the sleep cycle
approaches, a lighter, bland meal of complex carbohydrates will help
sleep come easier and be sustained.
topics appropriate to a "Healthy Shiftworker" program would be:
the role of sleep on body function and immunity
much sleep is enough?
importance of a regular sleep schedule (regardless of when sleep
for staying alert while on the job
(and negative) impact of exercise on sleep
impact of stimulants and alcohol
connected with family and friends
rituals: winding down before sleep
to do when sleep doesn’t come
to nap (and when not to)
the bedroom environment for daytime sleeping
out noise: ear plugs, white noise machines, etc.
connection between exposure to light and quality sleep
with daytime distractions that disturb sleep
and cons of non-prescription sleep aids
insomnia requires professional help
pattern strategies for each type of shiftwork
Shiftworker" programs will have the most impact when families are
invited. They gain an understanding of the employee’s need
for sleep, proper nutrition, and how best to organize household chores
and family activities around their sleeping schedule.
Else Can Wellness Managers Do?
the "Healthy Shiftworker" program, become an employee advocate to
management on shiftwork issues. For instance, the optimal work schedule
balances operational requirements, employee preferences, lifestyle
issues and human factors that influence safety and performance. Surveys
of facility managers show that employee involvement in developing work
schedules (versus management mandate) leads to lower levels of
absenteeism and turnover. This includes the responsible management of
overtime and pulling double shifts.
the nutrition options in the workplace. Encourage cafeteria coverage
for all shifts. Screen vending machines for light, digestible food
alternatives. Is there easy access to refrigerators and microwaves to
increase shiftwork food options?
is being done to assist the exhausted employee? Are excessively
fatigued employees screened before driving home? Create an area where
at-risk employees can nap before leaving.
environmental strategies for boosting alertness. Manage, rather than
ban, napping. Train management and shiftworkers on how to effectively
use brief 15- to 20-minute naps to boost alertness.
kind of support can be provided to the family? Help employees organize
and negotiate child care arrangements. Organize special family days in
the workplace. Support social activities for single shiftworkers.
Circadian Technologies Inc., 24 Hartwell Avenue, Lexington, MA 02421;
(781) 676-6900, www.circadian.com.