How can working at night affect your health?

How can working at night affect your health?

Last update: 27 April, 2020

There are many people who complete their workday during the night. Healthcare workers, night watchmen, and people that travel frequently all belong to professions that require workers to work during the nighttime. Many studies show that working during the night greatly reduces our quality of life and life expectancy, among other fundamental factors.

It’s not as if we can just make these jobs cease to exist. Many of these night jobs are basic public services that workers must perform at night. With that being said, there are many sources that insist that we limit the amount of time we spend working at night.

Work that takes place at night

With the increasing amount of establishments that are open 24 hours, the number of night jobs are increasing. In addition to these, some professionals clean streets or maintain facilities that operate during the day (train or bus stations, for example), or truck drivers.

There are also basic services in the healthcare world: professionals in nursing, medicine, and other disciplines, and those who guarantee the health of patients. Employees don’t perform these jobs exclusively at night, but there are different shifts in the morning, afternoon, and evening). In Spain more than 2.3 million people work either totally or partially during the night shift.

working at night

What happens if you don’t sleep during the night

When we don’t sleep during the night, we don’t get the rest we’re used to getting. This is for biological reasons: our brain is programmed to rest at night. People who work at night rest about 1-2 hours less than the rest of us. Only those under 35 years of ago can continue to sleep normally, almost as if they weren’t working a night shift.

Not only do we need to take into account the number of hours of sleep we’re getting, but we also need to account for the quality of our sleep. Our body creates a hormone called melatonin during the night. This hormone can adjust our biological rhythms, which signals to our body “when it’s day and when it’s night”.

Because of this, our body goes through hormonal changes when we don’t sleep during the night. These hormones are one reason why women experience changes in menstruation and PMS, or become more prone to breast cancer. Likewise, another consequence of working at night is that you lose 5 years from your life for each 15 years working a night shift.

In addition to these changes, night shift employees are more frequently irritated. They have an increased likelihood of suffering cardiovascular disease, have poor eating habits, digestive problems, sleep disorders, and chronic fatigue. It’s even common to begin to resent your social and family life.

working the night shift

Alleviate the consequences of working at night

When we have to work at night, it’s fundamental to follow these guidelines to ensure that our body works normally as possible. 

  • Nobody who’s over the age of 35 should work a nighttime shift. If you can, it’s important not to work nighttime jobs if you’re over the age of 35. This is the age limit in which our body can recover easily from this type of work.
  • Sleep before going to work, preferably when it’s getting dark. An hour and a half of sleep before going to work, around about 9 o’clock is best. Getting rest before work is how we take advantage of the fact that our brain is making melatonin at this time.
  • Wear dark glasses when leaving work. If you leave work wearing dark colored glasses, we can trick our brains on the way home into believing that it’s dark outside. At home we can lower the blinds at forget that it’s daytime.
  • Take melatonin. If our body isn’t capable of creating melatonin normally, it’s essential that we take melatonin a half hour before going to bed in order to simulate a natural sleep cycle.
  • Isolate yourself from noise. We should do everything possible to escape noise while we’re sleeping. If we’re hearing significant noise while we sleep it can affect the quality of our daytime sleep.
  • Request a review of your current health. As a night shift worker, you should undergo tests to determine if your health is appropriate to perform this work. In the case of health professionals, this can be useful to end your night shifts if your health is suffering.

Sleeping is a necessity, like eating and drinking. We must promote good sleep hygiene for everybody so that all of us can benefit and receive proper services from those who work under these difficult conditions.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.