Preserving the Mental and Physical Health of the “Graveyard Workers”
January 5, 2016
In the article 8 Ways Working the Night Shift Hurts Your Health, authors suggest that working night shifts can lead to 1. Sleep disorders 2. Increased diabetes risk 3. Increased obesity risk 4. Increased breast cancer risk 5. Altered metabolic state, 6.increased risk of heart attack 7. Increased workplace injuries 8. Depression.
Any medical provider can add to the list: 1. Anxiety, 2. Drug Abuse, 3. Alcohol abuse, 4. Marital discord, 5. Family stresses, 6. Increased Errors 7. Career dissatisfaction, 8. Burnout, 9. Vicious cycle of sleep/circadian disturbance, 10. Impaired judgment, 11. Etc., etc., etc. (Add your own).
In industry, most major mistakes happen between 2-4 AM. This occurs even with workers who exclusively work nights on a consistent basis. Yet, most medical practitioners work night shifts intermittently, and the on-again/off-again cycle of this scheduling dramatically alters circadian rhythms. As a provider gets older, especially after passing the age of 50, these issues get more pronounced, more difficult, and sometimes worsen to an extent that make them very visible to others.
What’s a person to do who has chosen the EM lifestyle without foreseeing all its potential consequences? An article in web MD gives some steps on avoiding work sleep disorder. It is titled Could you have shift work sleep disorder? It can be found at: (http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/night-shift-sleep )
The underlying purpose of this blog on the topic of night shifts is to remind everyone to “LOVE” and “CHERISH” any body (yours!) willing to work night shifts. Doing so is not easy. It can be especially difficult for those of a hardened EM mindset, who not uncommonly beat their bodies into submission, just to accomplish the work. Most of us have been there at one time or another.
Just as it is hard to quantify the dangers of ignoring one’s own mental and physical health needs, so it is equally difficult to quantify the other side of that fence: the important psychosocial benefits of self-care. Ignoring reminders we get in this area comes at a considerable price. Being an ostrich, in this turf, has deep ramifications. The winds still blow over the plain when the ostrich head is below it, but its body is still exposed. Costs come in terms of physical health, mental health (paranoia), social isolation, and difficulty fitting in with the rest of society (populated by other birds that have a “normal” work flow).
For those who have reached elder status, continue to work, and have sweats and shakes if a night shift is scheduled, those who are willing (or sometimes coerced) to do nights-only are precious commodities. How do you keep them alive, happy (or at least not miserable), and preserve the benefit they give? Most importantly, reimburse them well with shift differentials, RVU’s, control of their own schedules, psychological support, and ears that remember to “listen to them”.
Don’t underestimate the need to pay attention to them. They are usually working in an environment that is fundamentally different to the day shift. Their concerns might not be appreciated and/or respected. And sometimes just listening has great benefits, even when no action is taken, or can be taken.
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