How Working Nights Affects your Health -- and What to do About It

You’ve finally landed that dream job; the only problem is, you’ll have to work nights. Whether it’s only for a short time in order to get your foot in the door, or it’s going to be a permanent part of your life if you want to keep your job, working the graveyard shift can be really tough.

You’re probably prepared for the inevitable tiredness that will come as you adjust to your schedule, but unfortunately, it could get worse than that. Working nights can affect your health in a number of other ways, all of which are less than pleasant. Here are a few things to look out for when you’re pulling the midnight shift.

Increased risk of heart disease and cancer. According to Swedish researchers, shift workers have a 40 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease than people who work standard hours. In another study, police officers who worked the night shift were more prone to metabolic syndrome than their regular-shift counterparts. Metabolic syndrome includes a larger waist circumference, higher cholesterol and triglycerides, and higher levels of glucose.

In short, that can lead to:

A slower metabolism, which means it may be tougher for you to lose weight or to maintain your weight compared to people who work standard hours.

Fatigue that never goes away. You’ve probably assumed that your sleep schedule is going to be off -- but night workers also tend to have more problems going to sleep when it’s time to sleep. They also tend to be more tired and irritable during their waking hours, which can wreak havoc on your relationships with friends and family.

In addition, feeling constantly fatigued can make you have:

Lower performance at work. Accidents are more likely to happen when you’re tired. In addition, your memory may be more impaired when your circadian rhythm -- the internal "clock" that tells you when it’s time to sleep -- is off. If you’re working the night shift in hopes of impressing the bosses, that reduced performance is not going to help much.

So what to do about all of these potential problems?

To try to combat all those ill effects, the American Psychological Association recommends being highly vigilant about your sleep schedule. In other words, make sure you’re sleeping at the same times every day. On your way home, wear sunglasses to tell your internal clock that it’s time to sleep. Use dark curtains and a face mask to further signal to your body that it’s "night."

And of course, eating healthy and getting regular exercise will help you stay healthier overall. Try to work in your workouts before you start your shift, or do small bits of exercise during your breaks. Every bit helps and can help combat those risk factors you’re facing.

You might not be able to change your schedule just yet, but by being aware of the risks and then taking steps to combat them, you can make the most of the night shift.


Image courtesy Kuba Bozanowski, Flickr