The latest news item to capture my attention was this podcast on Radio4 (The Night Shift):
- Sarah Montague, in the company of two fellow night-workers,
investigates how working when most people are sleeping affects our
"The assumption has always been that our bodies adapt to the nightshift," says Professor Russell Foster. "But now neuroscience is beginning to unravel the fundamental mechanism of sleep ... and the extraordinary finding is that we don't adapt."
If the body clock is disrupted, Sarah discovers, our organs don't function properly and we can't control our metabolism. There's evidence to suggest that nightshift workers have a higher incidence of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
We follow Sarah and the night-workers through their shifts as they attempt to carry out their normal duties but struggle with tiredness and poor concentration.
In the US there are several class action suits by nightshift workers who accuse their employers of damaging their health. The Danish government has paid compensation to night-workers who developed breast cancer. Many argue that similar demands are bound to arise in the UK.We hear how some companies are "chronotyping" their staff - finding out whether they're a lark or an owl - before scheduling their shifts. And we find out that millions are being spent on drugs which could allow us to turn on and off a sleep "switch".
There is a magazine article on the BBC here and a further article from which seven key points are evident:
1. Against the clockAlarm clocks may be set at 3am, but body clocks never get used to the night shift (regardless of how much sleep an individual gets). This can disrupt the rhythm of vital gene activity.
2. Losing sleepNight workers are likely to sleep less and less well than those keeping daytime hours, as they try to get their shut-eye while the rest of the street cuts its grass and revs its engines in the full glare of daylight.
3. Almost drunkThose starting work at 4am are thought to have the mental prowess of those who’ve downed a few whiskies, which may explain a higher rate of work injuries at night than in the day.
4. Cause of cancerStudies have shown that night shifts are linked to higher rates of cancer, with women who work night shifts for 30 years or more found to be twice as likely to develop breast cancer.
5. Staying sweetCakes and chocolate may offer a short-term boost, but sugar and fat stay in the bloodstream for longer at night than during the day, increasing the chances of nocturnal workers suffering from type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
6. Brain drainThe brains of workers who’ve notched up ten years of night shifts age by an extra six and a half years, so the equivalent of aging 16 and a half years every decade.
7. Feeling downShift work can lead to irritability, mood swings and higher rates of depression, according to some studies.