In many industries, falling asleep on the job for even 30 seconds can cause a serious mistake. Yet studies show that 30 to 50% of night shift workers report falling asleep at least once a week while on the job. Sleep issues affect truck and bus drivers, airline pilots, factory workers, police, emergency workers, healthcare providers, hotel employees and anyone else on night or changing shifts.
The body has high and low points every 24-hour period. Body and brain functions slow down during the nighttime and early morning in a pattern known as circadian rhythms. Working while the body is at its low point is stressful and fatiguing, increasing the risk of accidents. In fact, according to one study, workers who work night or rotating shifts may be twice as likely to get hurt on the job as workers on day shifts. Fatigue also impairs judgment, making the workplace less safe for others, too.
Sleep deprivation is strongly linked to errors and greater risk for injury and death. Circadian says it’s important to balance the best time for starting the morning shift with the best time for ending the night shift, so workers can get enough sleep before the morning shift and after the night shift. The body’s biological clock controls alertness and sleepiness during the day.
Alertness is low and sleep is more easily achieved between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. and also in the early afternoon. A person’s alertness is greatest during the morning and early evening hours. Circadian says morning shifts starting earlier than 6 a.m. have a great potential to cause sleep deprivation because workers often don’t get enough sleep beforehand. In order to do so, they would have to go to bed when their body clocks were at peak alertness.
Night-shift workers are also at risk for sleep deprivation because they tend to sleep neither as long nor as well during the day. Not only are they fighting their circadian clocks by sleeping during the day, but frequently they must also deal with noise and daylight. The later daytime sleep starts after a night shift ends, the more difficult it is for a worker to obtain adequate sleep.
Night shifts that finish late in the morning will not allow a person to obtain enough sleep and will lead to chronic sleep deprivation if not addressed. Circadian recommends starting day shifts later than 6 a.m. to allow workers to arrive sufficiently rested. Similarly, the earlier in the morning a night shift ends, the less likely your workers are to be working while sleep deprived.