Here’s to the unnamed soldiers — our fond moniker for night shift workers: We’d like to start by honoring the brave and gallant and (understandably) insane workers, who have to drudge on working nights. In our experience, these shadow operators’ work often go unappreciated. And while we seem hyperbolic in our honor of their sacrifice, bear in mind: lack of sleep can kill you faster than starvation.
No joke, working nights is actually deadly: Researchers at Northwestern and the University of Surrey published a study in the journal Chronobiology International looking into the health consequences of being “a later chronotype” — or those going to sleep well after midnight and rising later. The study, which followed 433,000 adults in the UK over a period of 6.5 years, found that night owls had a 10% increased likelihood of dying compared to people who had an earlier chronotype. And this was true for people of all ages in the study, and for both men and women. The analysis also revealed greater rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, gastrointestinal problems, and psychological distress among evening-type people, according to Vox.
The conclusion: “When our biological clock is out of sync with society’s, our whole biology gets thrown off, and many aspects of our lives grow more stressful. Having a very late chronotype is like living in a constant state of jet lag, which takes a toll on the body.” The World Health Organisation identified the effect of night-shift work on the body’s rhythms as a possible carcinogen as early as 2007. And that’s not even including the social suicide and losing touch with friends and loved ones.
Yet more lost souls get thrown into the grinder: “The nocturnal workforce seems to be growing, as consumer businesses meet 24-hour demand for their services and manufacturers seek to maximise their investment in factories,” writes Chloe Cornish for the FT. The UK saw the number of night-shift workers rise by more than 250,000 in the past five years.
All you can do, dear night worker, is to sleep better (or move on): To those unfortunate souls who have to work a night shift, we can only wish you luck and offer up the Sleep Talkers blog’s tips on sleeping better for night shift workers. The most obvious of these is to eat healthy, as working nights can make you prone to obesity and bad dietary choices. Another obvious one is to make sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. Not to mention making sure to unwind before bedtime. The most interesting tip? DO NOT switch sleep cycles of the weekend, not matter how tempting that is. “Doing so can interfere with your body’s internal clock that on Mondays, you’ll find yourself tired during your shift and alert when it’s time to sleep. To prevent this, you must be consistent with your sleep-wake schedule.”