Shift work effects, in industrial countries, almost 20% of the active population. Light therapy enables the improvement of the workers’ well-being.
This type of work imposes patterns on the workers which are in conflict with their surroundings and their own biological rhythms. This staggered rhythm encourages the occurrence of a succession of problems which often make life difficult and which, in 30% of cases, obligate the night worker to take a provisional or long-term absence.
Why is working at night not good for my body?
The causes are quite obvious: they are forced into the stagged hours imposed by the job which restrict and weaken the body.
How to know if night working has a negative effect on your health
Other that the difficulties in social and family arrangements, night working and shift working deregulates the worker’s biological rhythms, which creates a succession of other problems.
The main problems are those linked to sleep:
- Drowsiness and decrease in alertness during the night shift
- Difficulty going to sleep
- Insufficient and non-restful sleep creating chronic tiredness
Problems linked to sleep are more evident in workers with variable timetales and even more serious if the rotations are long (8 days). Short rotations (2 to 3 days) seem preferable as they do not give the body enough time to change the circadian rhythms (24 hour rhythms).
These problems linked to sleep encourage the occurence of psychological problems and the beginning of various chronic illnesses. These chronic illnesses general appear after several years of work.
- Depressive tendancies and mood problems: + 15 to 20%
- Cardiovascular problems: x 2
- Gastric problems: x 5
Possible treatments to feel better when working at night
Some advice link to light (and the avoidance of it) may help the worker to adapt his body to the shift pattern.
- A light therapy session at the right time, thanks to its inhibiting effect of melatonin, enables the resynchronization of the wake/sleep cycle and improves the worker’s quality of sleep and alertness when he wishes.
- Conversely, the use of glasses with a blue light filter (blueblocker glasses) prevent the light from blocking the melatonin and allow an easier access to sleep once the work shift ends.
Advice for using light therapy in the case of night working
The time of exposure to light or avoidance of light is very important, because it will enable the advancement or delay of the internal biological clock and therefore provoke either an advanced or delayed phase.
- Light therapy : For a person who carries out night shifts more than 3 nights in a row, we recommend carrying out a light therapy session before each shift and, if feeling tired, also in the middle of the shift.
- Blueblocker glasses : For all night workers, we recommend wearing filter glasses between ending the shift and going to bed. If the person stays in a dark environment during this time (as may be during winter when the sun has not come up yet), then wearing the glasses is not necessary.
Discover how light therapy can help people who work at night
with Roland Pec, Sleep specialist and chronotherapist