What shift work does to human health


On daily basis, billions of people worldwide are into one form of shift work or the other, but the truth is that not all are aware that they are doing shift work.

Shift work is done either as a result of the kind of duty one performs; whether as a Police Officer, a Nurse, a Doctor, a Journalist, a Factory worker etc.

This engagement is common in the media industry, manufacturing companies, retail shops, healthcare facilities and hospitality.

Wikipedia, an online search engine, describes Shift Work as an employment practice designed to make use of, or provide service across, all 24 hours of the clock each day of the week.

The practice typically sees the day divided into shifts, set periods of time during which different groups of workers perform their duties.

For financial reasons, some do more than two jobs per day, others work morning, afternoon and evening believing they are running a normal working schedule.

In cities like Lagos where shift work is common, everybody is parting his night time to do one or two things extra.

Workers wake very early to do things before they set out for work and other enggements but in all of these, they do not see it as working extended periods.

The normal working schedule expected for workers is between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Any work done earlier and later than these times are shift work.

For instance when one gets up at 4 a.m. to prepare to get to work at 7 a.m., after close of work, in order not to be stuck in traffic, the person stays back at the office to leave for home by 10 a.m. and wakes again the next morning at 4 a.m.

Also, one goes to work at 8 a.m., closes at 4 p.m., goes to her shop at 5 p.m. and closes at 9 p.m., such a person is doing shift work.

However, it is important for people to know that there are risks associated with doing shift work, which this article tells its effects, challenges posed and solutions to the challenges.

Some medical experts believe extended working hours impair sleep and the human mental capacity to function at various other things.

A Paediatric Neurologist, Dr Okunola Olusola, from the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), says shift work has a devastating effect on the human body.

According to him, the human body has a normal reading that is regulated by sunlight.

“Shift work damages the normal cycle that is in the body.

“If the sun rises, there’s certain hormonal activities and functions in the body that comes to their peak in the early hours of the morning to help us to wake up, takes us through the day, then as the day darkens, those activities are suppressed so that we can prepare for the night to sleep and rest.

“So the sleep mode cycle is normally automatic. For those doing regular shift work like workers in factories, there is a destruction in the normal physiologic functioning of their body.

“That on its own has effect on the way their hormones are going to function,’’ he said.

“So, when the hormone of sleep and rest are supposed to be functioning, the light is on (the person is awake) because the person is engaged in various activities.

“Because the hormones are not functioning the way they are supposed to, and the system not driven the way it should, it then exposes the individual to risks of various conditions.

“Sicknesses such as heart problem, gastrointestinal problems, ulcer, diarrhea, constipation will surface.

“Why this is so is because the person has had poor and inadequate sleep, ’’ he said.

He explained that anyone who had not slept well, after a while, when the sleep accumulates in the body, it would have adverse effect to the persons mental health and activity.

According to him, his mental alertness and his judgment will also be poor.

Besides, even children are affected by the adverse effect of shift work which they practice.

“Even the children going to school are put on shift work, because they wake very early to school, after school, some will engage in extra lessons till about 6 p.m. before getting home at 7 p.m.’’

Olusola also stressed that working extended hours for a long time could cause one to be stressed and depressed adding that for a woman, her hormonal cycle could be destroyed.

He said it could cause miscarriages, delay in getting pregnant, babies could be born premature due to the fact that their hormone factor is also disturbed.

According to him, such hormones are constantly released and their levels are never low because the person is up from 5 am to 11 pm or midnight.

He said also that shift work causes a lot of problems essentially to the human hearts, the lungs, the kidneys and the brains.

Olusola also said that anger issues that could lead to broken homes and scattered relationship could arise due to the effect of shift work.

He therefore, urged people to condition themselves, take care of their bodies in order not to lose many years of their lives later in old age.

He advised people to cut down the amount of work that they do per day and try to get more sleep saying tomorrow was another day.

He also urged workers who had opportunities to take a nap even at their work places, not to fail to do so.

Olusola urged shift workers to ensure they carry along food to eat, so as not to depend on junks which could increase their risk of obesity, cardiovascular problem and several other illnesses.

A Consultant Neuro-Psychiatrist, Dr Maymunah Kadiri, founder of Pinnacle Medical Services, Lagos, said shift work which involved one staying awake throughout the night could influence ones sensibility.

According to her, it can affect the person’s mental health and family life.

“When a shift worker, be it a married man or a woman has not enough time to spend with his spouse, there is bound to be tension and problem in that home.

“It can be tension due to sexual problems, issues related to children upbringing and or lack of communication.

“Shift work has impact in every aspect of life of any human being, so there is need for spouses to institute a way of solving these challenges’’ she said.

Kadiri urged people engaged in extended work hours to ensure their families knew when they should be sleeping so as to make up for the deprived hours of sleep.

She also urged spouses to make out time to establish good communication skills so as to ease the stress at work as well as engaging in exercise.

NAN Features