“Shift work” is any work schedule that is not the standard Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five business week. About one out of six full-time American workers does shift work.
Shift work deserves its reputation for being hard on the minds and bodies of workers. A Bruce Springsteen song even treats shift work as punishment an employer might impose: “the boss don’t dig me so he put me on the night shift.”
One of the hallmarks of shift work is too little sleep, and that means much higher risks that a worker will suffer injuries and illnesses.
Many New Jersey workers get too little sleep
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 37% of New Jersey adults usually get less than seven hours of sleep, known as “short sleep.” Close to 39% of New Jersey women report short sleep, as do 50% of Black New Jersians.
Decades of research at the most reputable institutions have confirmed the reality and deep importance of circadian rhythms. Human beings are naturally daytime creatures.
The National Safety Council quotes an expert as saying, “Shift workers are expected to sleep during times when their biological rhythm drives them to stay awake and work at times when they have a profound urge to sleep.” The expert is the chair of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s committee on public safety.
Diseases and disorders more common in shift workers
It is not just New Jersians’ attention spans and alertness that suffer without enough sleep.
The CDC cites a study comparing the physical health of New Jersians who get short sleep to those usually getting enough sleep. New Jersey’s short sleepers suffer from significantly higher rates of coronary, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, depression, chronic kidney disease and diabetes.
About 30% of shift workers experience severe daytime sleepiness, but 60% also suffer from insomnia.
“Shift Work Disorder” affects a large percentage of shift workers and is officially recognized by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Disturbingly, people with the condition commonly have trouble going back to a normal sleep schedule even after they start working normal hours.
For shift workers, more injuries on and off the job
Workers who start work in the afternoon have more than a 15% greater risk of getting injured on the job. Those working the night shift have an injury risk that is 28% greater than standard shift workers, according to a study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Shift workers also suffer from injuries from motor vehicle accidents at a much higher rate than workers with standard worker schedules. They are twice as likely to fall asleep behind the wheel of a vehicle compared to those who work standard schedules.