It’s no secret, sleep is vital to our ability to function. And work, impacts when and how we sleep.
Humans by nature are diurnal beings; when the sun is up, we are meant to be awake, and when the sun goes down and our surroundings get dark, our body gets ready to sleep. So, what does this mean for the millions of Canadians who work nights instead of days?
Dr. Sandra Dorman from the Centre for Research in Occupational Safety and Health at Laurentian University studied this in-depth and found that all shift work disrupts our sleep cycles and dietary routines. The biggest health risk associated with shift work was fatigue; a major concern for workplace safety.
It all comes down to our circadian rhythm – our body’s internal clock. Our body produces hormones throughout the day in alignment with this clock, stimulating hunger and alertness when the sun is up and supressing these hormones, while producing others, like melatonin, to help us rest.
Because shift work disrupts these natural cycles, we must make a conscious effort to manage them. We need to ensure that we are still getting seven to eight hours of sleep in every 24-hour period. We also need to consume healthy food choices for most of our meals, regardless of what time of day it is.
Shift work not only affects our physical health, but it can also affect our mental health. There are increased reports of depression and anxiety disorders among shift workers, but these challenges can often stem from sleep deprivation. When we are not sleeping, our batteries are not recharging, which affects our ability to cope with the daily stressors of life.
Shift work can also affect our social health. If we are sleeping while most of our friends and family are getting together and doing things, it can lead to feelings of isolation and sadness. Getting into a healthy sleeping pattern can reduce the risk of these mental health issues.