Night Shift Workers At Highest Risk For Sleep Disorders
By Kurtis Bright
CDC Study Shows That Circadian Rhythms Still Hold Sway
We like to think, we modern humans, that with our fancy modern science research on everything from apples to zebras, we can solve any problem that faces us. Some of us even like to think that it is even possible to transcend the very foundations of what make us human animals, which is to say part and parcel of the ecosystem of this planet.
We like to pretend to ourselves that we can literally do anything, given enough research, money and time. In short we like to think we are gods, not animals that evolved out of the same muck that controls all the other animals and plants on the planet.
That doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to sleep patterns and our natural circadian rhythm, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control study. Turns out people who work the night shift are at much higher risk for developing sleep disorders than those who work traditional daylight hours.
We get the oft-misunderstood term “circadian rhythm” from the Latin root words “circa” meaning around or approximately, and “diem” meaning day. So the circadian clock has to do with what happens to an organism over the course of the earth’s rotation over a 24-hour period. And what scientists are finding is that, though our circadian rhythms can be “entrained” or adjusted, they are more or less programmed into us. They depend heavily on the natural rhythms of light and dark to give our bodies and minds cues as to what our behavior should consist of at certain times of day.
In other words, there is wiggle room, However the essential, basic clock we carry inside of us is hardwired. It dates back much farther than the factory time clock you use to punch in and out for your third shift at work. We operate on the same ancient rhythms that our ancestors evolved to use to signal when to hunt and when to take shelter to avoid being hunted.
The most recent CDC study looked at 6000 people and gauged the ways in which their work hours affected their quality of sleep. What they found was that almost 40 percent of the respondents--who worked any shift--reported getting less sleep than the recommended seven to nine hours per night.
However when they looked specifically at people who worked the night shift, that rate jumped to 61 percent. This same night owl demographic also reported higher rates of insomnia, poor sleep quality, and sleep impairment that was bad enough to affect their daily lives.
Granted, there were other factors that affected sleep quality: smoking, obesity, and surprisingly gender as well--female workers had higher prevalence of poor quality sleep than their male counterparts.
But it was the night shift where were found to have the largest contrasts in sleep quality as compared to their day shift counterparts--differences profound enough that they could be indicators of any number of societal problems: poor work quality, poor driving with the attendant higher accident rates, depression, drug and alcohol abuse to name a few. We’re just beginning to understand exactly how much of our health both physical and mental really does stem from our sleep quality that it is hard to quantify it.
“Particularly in light of the likely continuing increase in nontraditional working schedules, work-based prevention strategies and policies should be adopted to improve the quantity and quality of sleep among workers,” said Geoffrey Calvert, study lead author.
The CDC recommended making the following adjustments to accommodate these clear disadvantages for night shift workers: creating shift schedules with frequent rest breaks, making sure night shifts only ran for eight hours or less, and encouraging workers to nap before their night shift begins.