Working At Night: How Does It Affect Our Health?

Working at night: how does it affect our health?

There are many jobs that involve the working day during the night. Health professionals, night watchmen, people who travel often… are some of the professions that develop all or part of their work. And there are many studies showing that  working at night greatly reduces quality and life expectancy.

It is not easy to abolish night work, since several public services must necessarily be carried out at night. However, many institutions insist on lowering the hour load when forced to work at night.

What jobs are done at night

Faced with the increasing increase in  establishments with 24-hour opening hours, many night-time jobs are being created. To these are added, garbage collectors or those who take care of the maintenance of systems in operation during the day (train or bus stations, for example), or the drivers of vehicles such as trucks.

We also remember the basic services of the health sector: hospital professionals, doctors of medicine and other health disciplines who carry out on-call services to guarantee assistance and protect the health of patients. These professions are not exercised exclusively during the night, but involve several shifts (morning, afternoon and night).

Woman with glasses and pen looking at computer at night

What happens if you don’t sleep at night

When we don’t sleep at night, we don’t rest normally.  This is due to specific biological reasons: our brain is programmed to rest at night. People who have to work at night rest about 1-2 hours less than the rest, and only those younger than 35 manage to sleep almost as well as people who do not cope with night shifts.

However, we must not only take into account the amount of hours, but also the quality of sleep. At night, the body secretes a hormone called melatonin. This hormone regulates our biological rhythms, it allows the body to know “when it is day and when it is night”.

As a result, the body undergoes  hormonal changes when we don’t rest at night. They experience menstrual changes and are more likely to suffer from breast cancer. Another serious consequence of night work is the loss of 5 years of life every 15 night shifts.

In addition to these changes, irritability ,  increased chances of suffering from cardiovascular disease, poor eating habits, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue and even resentment about social and family life are common.

Security man looking at cameras

Working at night: mitigating the consequences

When we have to work at night, we must follow some precepts that help our body to function with a certain normality .

  • Avoid working at night after the age of 35 : if we can choose, it is important not to carry out night work after the age of 35, the age limit by which the body recovers more easily.
  • Sleeping before going to work, preferably when it is getting dark: it is very beneficial to allow yourself about an hour and a half of sleep before going to work and after 9 pm. At this time of day the brain is ready to produce melatonin.
  • Wearing dark glasses when leaving work : if we wear a pair of sunglasses when we leave work, we will “fool” the brain on the way home, where we can then lower the blinds and forget that it is day.
  • Take melatonin : if our body is unable to release it normally, we must take it half an hour before going to bed, to simulate a natural sleep.
  • Isolate yourself from noise : we must do everything possible to avoid hearing noises while we sleep since the waking state characteristic of the day can compromise the quality of sleep.
  • Periodic health checks : it is within the rights of any worker to undergo tests and checks that determine if his state of health is appropriate for carrying out night work. In the case of healthcare professionals, this is useful for suspending night shifts when health is affected.

Sleeping is a need, like eating and drinking, and we must promote good sleep hygiene throughout the population  to receive good services from those who work in the harshest conditions.

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