How Does Working Third Shift Affect the Body?

A woman is working a night shift. (Image: Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images)

Shift Worker Disorder

Third shift workers can develop a condition known as "shift worker disorder." The main symptoms are sleepiness and insomnia. A sufferer will feel tired during his work shift when he is trying to stay alert, and he will be unable to fall asleep once it is time to go to bed. This is due to the body's inability to adjust to being active at night and sleeping during the day, which goes against its natural rhythm.

Digestive Problems

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified a link between working third shift and digestive disorders. Although the exact cause is not known, the CDC says it may be because the digestive system is forced to work hard in the middle of the night when the body would normally be at rest. Third shift workers often have trouble eating healthy meals and getting good nutrition due to their schedules, so this may also contribute to their high incidence of digestive problems.

Cardiac Problems

The CDC reports that many studies have shown a link between working third shift and cardiac problems. Working third shift is stressful because many workers have trouble spending enough time with their families and coordinating other daily activities. This stress may contribute to heart disease and other cardiac problems. Unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise may also predispose third shift workers to heart disease.

Cancer

According to Dr. David Blask of the Tulane University School of Medicine, working third shift raises a person's chances of getting cancer. Exposure to artificial light late at night decreases the body's melatonin production. Melatonin is a natural cancer-fighting hormone, so lack of it leads to a greater risk for developing the disease. Dr. Blask says that melatonin supplements don't appear to have the same cancer-fighting power as the natural substance made by the body.

Prevention

Third shift workers can prevent some of the negative effects on their bodies. Allday says that most of these effects can be linked to unhealthy habits such as not getting enough rest and eating an unhealthy diet. Third shift workers can offset the damage by planning balanced meals and healthy snacks. They should make sure they get enough rest by wearing eye shades and earplugs to bed and sleeping in a room with darkening shades. They should also manage stress through exercise, meditation and other techniques to lessen the risk of ulcers and other stress-related health problems.

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