What Is Shift Work?
The term shift work refers to any work schedule that falls outside the hours of 7 am and 6 pm Trusted Source National Library of Medicine, Biotech Information The National Center for Biotechnology Information advances science and health by providing access to biomedical and genomic information. View Source . Shift work can include evening, night, and early morning shifts, as well as fixed or rotating schedules. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 16% of wage and salary employees Trusted Source U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making. View Source follow shift work schedules. This includes the 6% who work evening shifts and 4% who work night shifts.
While some employees enjoy working at night and prefer a non-traditional schedule, shift work does carry certain drawbacks. People who work night, early morning, or rotational shifts are at higher risk Trusted Source American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) AASM sets standards and promotes excellence in sleep medicine health care, education, and research. View Source of developing shift work disorder and other sleep problems.
Which Jobs Normally Include Shift Work?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shift work schedules are divided into three general categories Trusted Source U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making. View Source :
Evening: This category represents shifts that fall include the hours of 6pm to 10pm. Common occupations with evening shifts include:
- Servers and preparers, bartenders, and other food service employees
- Hairdressers, salon staff, personal trainers, and other personal care employees
- Retail store workers, real estate agents, cashiers, and other sales personnel
- Musicians, directors, broadcast technicians, and others who work in the arts, sports, healthcare, and media
Night: Night work includes any shifts that fall between the hours of 11pm and 3am. Common jobs that include night shifts include:
- Doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other healthcare practitioners
- Nursing assistants, psychiatric aides, veterinary assistants, and other healthcare support staff
- Firefighters, police officers, security guards, and other protective service employees
- Bakers, machinists, assembly line workers, and others who work in manufacturing and production
- Truck drivers, air traffic controllers, conveyor operators, and other transportation and material moving employees.
Early morning: An early morning shift includes the hours of 4am to 8am. Typical occupations that include these shifts include:
- Architects and engineers
- Carpenters, equipment operators, roofers, and other construction and extraction workers
- Farmers, fishing workers, and forestry personnel
- Aircraft and industrial machinery mechanics, telecommunications equipment repairers, and other installation, maintenance, and repair professionals
What Is a Rotating Shift?
Many shift work positions follow a fixed schedule with the same starting and ending times for each shift, as well as the same work days during the week. A rotating schedule Trusted Source Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) CCOHS ensures a balanced approach to workplace health and safety issues. They offer a range of workplace health and safety services to help your organization raise awareness, assess risks, implement prevention programs, and improve health, safety and well-being. View Source , on the other hand, may include different shift times and/or different work days that vary from week to week.
The specific requirements of a rotating shift vary by employer. Some of the most common rotating schedules include:
- Continental: Workers rotate between day, evening, and night shifts for seven consecutive work days. Each shift lasts eight hours. After each block of seven work days, the employees receive two or three days off.
- Panama: The Panama schedule – also known as the 2-2-3 – follows a 14-day timetable. Employees work 12-hour shifts for two or three consecutive days, then receive two to three days off. This means they’ll work different days during the first and second weeks of the 14-day cycle.
- Dupont: A longer rotating schedule, the Dupont system spans four weeks in length. Workers typically rotate between day and night shifts every one to two weeks. They’ll work for three or four consecutive days, then receive one to three days off in a row. The four-week schedule culminates in seven consecutive days off for the worker.
Rotating shifts can be more difficult than fixed shifts because they require workers to readjust their schedule every week or month. That said, the circadian rhythms guiding your sleep-wake cycle can be adjusted more easily when you rotate forward from day to night to early morning shifts. Rotating backward or in a random pattern tends to be more disruptive to circadian cycles.
Some workers also struggle with rotating shifts because they’re forced to adjust their sleep-wake schedule every one to two weeks. For many people, rotating every five to seven days is most difficult. Rotating more frequently – every two to three days or so – causes fewer circadian disruptions, while rotating less frequently allows you to spend more time in one circadian cycle before you need to adjust again.
Pros and Cons of Shift Work
Benefits of shift work often include:
- Suited to night owls and morning people: People who feel more motivated and productive after the sun goes down may thrive during a night shift, whereas people who concentrate better in the pre-dawn hours may benefit from an early morning shift.
- Easier commuting: By avoiding roads and highways during peak traffic times, you’ll be able to get to work more quickly than many daytime commuters.
- Better wages than day shifts: While employers in the U.S. are not legally obligated Trusted Source U.S. Department of Labor The U.S. Department of labor aims to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights. View Source to pay you more for shift work, some companies incentivize workers who work a non-traditional schedule.
Disadvantages of shift work include:
- Sleep problems: Shift work disorder is a medical condition that affects people who work non-traditional schedules. The disorder is characterized by insomnia symptoms when the person tries to sleep and excessive sleepiness when they are awake. Even if their symptoms do not develop into a disorder, many shift workers struggle with falling or remaining asleep during the day when rest is needed and staying awake during their shifts. Hormonal disruptions of cortisol and testosterone levels can affect the quality of life and cause fatigue, low energy levels, and decreased libido.
- Life disruptions: Working at night and sleeping during the day can interfere with family life, as well as socializing with friends or colleagues.
- More hazardous driving conditions: While shift workers contend with less traffic, they are at higher risk Trusted Source National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Through enforcing vehicle performance standards and partnerships with state and local governments, NHTSA reduces deaths, injuries and economic losses from motor vehicle crashes. View Source of being involved in an accident related to drowsy driving. Most of these collisions occur either between midnight and 6 am, or in the late afternoon, and the majority involve single drivers with no passengers.
- Exposure to Blue Light Appears to Improve Work Quality at Night March 17, 2023 – Blue light exposure may increase work quality on night shift and relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Anxiety Disorders May Be More Pronounced in People Who Work Night Shift February 20, 2023 – A study of Italian night shift workers discovered that people with altered sleep-wake patterns are more likely to have anxiety disorders.
- Airline Cabin Crews Found to Experience High Levels of Fatigue and Sleepiness
Sleep Strategies May Improve Medical Residents’ Performance on Night Shifts
Listed news articles do not represent the opinion of Sleep Foundation and are provided for informational purposes only.
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