09:45 am, Saturday 31 May, 2008
Source: Courier Mail
While most of us are asleep at night, an army of workers keeps the country running. While most people dread the 9-5 shift, spare a thought for the 1.7 million people who work through the night to keep the country ticking over.
Almost a sixth of all workers in Australia have worked the graveyard shift some time in the past 12 months.
Carrying bar staff, taxi-drivers, cleaners and police officers, call centre workers and nurses, the streets aren’t deserted after dark.
But night work, as most who do it would attest, can take its toll.
Over one in 10 shiftworkers will suffer a work-related injury, nearly double those who work daytime hours, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The average night shiftworker is deprived of five to seven hours sleep a week, says Woolcock Institute of Medical Research psychologist Dr Delwyn Bartlett. Those who rotate between night and day shift can potentially be worse off, she says.
Most workers do not fully adapt to working at night, she says.
“What happens is that you are sleepy at night when you are meant to be alert, hence all the accidents. Then you are battling every day to try to sleep,” Bartlett says.
Studies have shown it takes 70 nights and 70 days for someone to become nocturnal.
“The average shiftworker isn’t going to do that (work 70 nights straight),” Bartlett says. “They have a life, they have family, they have friends.”
A police officer, who declined to be named, says despite working night-shift sporadically over his 10-year career in the force, his body has never become used to it.
“Certainly working nights takes it out on your body,” he says. “For the most part all I’m thinking about is my pillow by the end of the shift.”
Most officers work on a rotating roster of two night shifts, followed by two days, he says. Shifts are usually 12 hours.
The senior constable says despite following the advice on the police intranet how to best cope with working nights and following the tips on sleeping during the day, his body has not been able to fully adjust to working shiftwork.
“As long as the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, with your circadian rhythms you are always going to want to sleep at night,” he says.
Bartlett says while some people are naturally better able to handle working at night than others, there are ways employees can reduce the impacts of shiftwork.
Bartlett says “morning people” – those who are early to rise and early to bed – are less suited to shiftwork than night owls.
Although a hot cuppa might seem the perfect tonic to ward off tiredness during the night, Bartlett says shiftworkers should avoid caffeine during the last half of a shift.
“Caffeine can have a half-life of up to eight hours in the body,” she says.
Eating well and exercising can help ward off tiredness during the night, she says.
“When we are continually tired we eat the wrong things, such as fat, salt and sugar,” she says.
“You’re more likely to eat fatty and sugary foods because they give you a (short-term) boost of energy.
“Exercise helps you to feel awake because it raises your core body temperature.