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Coping with shift work

Working odd shift patterns can disrupt your body’s normal circadian rhythm and interferes with normal sleep pattern.

Shift work and long hours can produce several ill effects:

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Reduced attention span

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Slower reaction time

  • Gastrointestinal and digestive problems

  • Disruption in family and social life

These can all contribute to on-the-job accidents and injuries.

Problems associated with shift work can be addressed two ways.

The first is organisational. There is no perfect shift work schedule, but the better ones often include plenty of worker input and a thorough understanding of the jobs that need to be accomplished.

Organisational factors include the length of staff rotation (short or long), direction of rotation (moving from day shift to alternative shift or vice versa), and the start and length of shifts. All of this should be considered when drawing up a shift schedule.

The second way to address shift work is individual. There are several simple actions an individual worker can take to minimize the stress and physical problems associated with shift work:

  • Maintain regular eating patterns and, if working the night shift, eat lighter, healthier foods.

  • Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and salt.

  • Avoid the use of sleep aids.

  • Sleep on a regular schedule.

  • Keep your sleeping area dark and quiet. If necessary, use ear plugs and an eye mask. Turn off the telephone.

  • Make sure your family and friends understand how important it is that you have a regular sleeping schedule.

  • Keep physically active. Physical fitness reduces stress, helps impose a regular sleeping pattern, and can result in a deeper, healthier sleep.


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