Feeling a bit run down? Blame the third shift

Share this content:
John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Running a long-term care facility is a 24/7 undertaking. As a result, caregivers must be on hand to work the dreaded third shift.

Some people seem to thrive in the relative solitude and altered pace that night work can offer. But for many others, getting through the wee hours can be a real challenge.

New research helps explain why. Apparently, the topsy-turvy sleep cycle that accompanies night work can cause our DNA to go a little haywire, British researchers discovered. It turns out that about 6% of our genes are directly linked to our internal clocks or circadian rhythm, and switch on at certain times during the day or night. Investigators found that almost all of these genes get out of sync when sleep patterns are interrupted.

When that happens, the result can be a feeling very similar to jet lag. For full findings, see the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This new discovery follows earlier investigations linking night work to a heightened risk for Type-2 diabetes, heart attacks, depression, obesity, heart disease and cancer. Talk about occupational hazards!

So what's to be done? The obvious answer is to avoid working at night. Unfortunately, that's not really an option for many in the long-term care field.

According to people who study these things for a living, there are some steps third-shift workers can take to minimize the damage. They include obvious things such as eating healthy food, and avoiding caffeine and melatonin. It also can be helpful to keep the same sleep schedule on non-work days, and to make sure the place where you sleep remains as dark as possible. Some experts also recommend taking a nap just prior to work.

These steps won't completely undo various graveyard shift hazards. But they could delay your arrival there.

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.