Between 2012 and 2017 there was a 9% (260,000 people) rise in nightshift workers. Nightshifts are associated with many health problems from increased risk of depression and cancer to poor digestive health and diabetes.
Throughout recent history, Western society has demanded more, faster, longer, and it is now not uncommon to find 24-hour fast-food restaurants, stores, garages and transport.
The promise of ‘next-day delivery’ on almost any item from any supplier has led to a drastic increase in the number of shift workers in logistics.
As society demands more and more from its workforce the cost of nightshift-related illnesses is likely to rise even further.
Don’t upset the rhythm
Our body functions are governed by a system of natural clocks that control growth, digestion, tiredness, and our response to medication and injury.
The main type of rhythm affected by shift work is the circadian rhythm, which controls the day-to-day functions of our body and when disturbed can cause genes to turn on and off at the wrong time, potentially leading to serious health issues.
A recent study showed that female shift workers, who make up 40% of the night-time workforce, have a 20% increased risk of developing cancer throughout the course of their lifetimes, rising to 58% for nurses who work nightshifts more regularly.
Economic pressures of shift work
As the numbers of people working unhealthy hours increases, so will the proportion of people who suffer from diseases that are associated with shift work, which already cost the economy billions of pounds every year and place a great strain on healthcare systems and employers.
Employers should endeavor to provide information on how best shift workers can maintain a healthy lifestyle, and they should reduce incidences of people taking on unhealthy hours by fragmenting shifts into regular prolonged blocks that allow their employees’ bodies time to adjust.