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How does shift work affect your health?

Posted by:

27 January, 2014

Recent research undertaken in the UK has suggested working night shifts plays havoc with many of the body’s genes.

Scientists disrupted the normal sleep-wake cycle of 22 volunteers until they were sleeping in the middle of the day. They then tested the activity of genes in blood samples taken from the participants.

The research showed a six-fold reduction in the number of active genes working to a 24-hour “circadian rhythm” cycle. These  included many linked to the regulation of biological processes, indicating that shiftwork or jet lag may have far-reaching physiological and health effects.


  • What effect do shift patterns have on your health?
  • What advice would you give to students working their first night shift?
  • Could any changes be made to shift patterns to improve staff health and wellbeing?





Readers' comments (10)

  • All nurses have to work day and night in the trust
    I work for.
    After a night shift I get acutely irritable, aches and pain in the whole body and unable to sleep properly after the shift. My snatches of sleep after the shift is due to pure exhaustion.
    Working day and night shifts in the same week is really cruel to my body.
    There are nurses who wants to do only nights and they tolerate the nights much better.
    My advice is to bring back night nurses for nights and give day nurses a choice, rather than force nurses to do nights and days.

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  • Completely agree with the above comments. Some like working nights, some don't, some would rather work weekends, some want Mon - Fri. Internal rotation causes much misery and probably contributes to higher sickness levels.

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  • 50/50 works well for me as long as I don't get days and nights in the same week. I'm lucky enough to sleep quite well during the day though, while some people unfortunately don't. I wouldn't want permanent nights though.

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  • i used to hate internal rotation.nights would make me i do monday to friday which i am much better suited to,also i get to have a life something which was difficult to achieve before.i will never to night shift ever again.

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  • tinkerbell

    Night work agrees better with some people than others, unfortunately it turned me into a vampire who was blinded by sunlight. I bought a sleep mask to help but kept dreaming i'd lost my handbag and couldn't find it because I was blind. No strategy helped me with the jet lag until eventually I could only sleep a couple of hours per day and became very tearful when people just said 'hello'. They'd ask 'what's wrong'. I'd reply 'i'm on nights'. Thankfully after 25 years of back and forth I am cured and only work days.

    Good for those who prefer night work, let them have it cos' they're doing all us who it doesn't agree with a favour and stop this continual internal rotation for the sake of internal rotation and the 24 hour perspective lip service. If we need a 24 hour perspective lets at least all enjoy the benefit of it and have more managers on nights.

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  • Agree with all above. The obsession of forcing every nurse to rotate onto nights is cruel, particularly if it clashes with childcare/homelife and a good work life balance. I used to like to rotate, but now I am older I know I would struggle. I have done my bit for over 30 years. I am fine up to 2am, but unable to function after this. Consequently I have left my department.

    A former colleague of mine - sister in ED - retired early last year due to the obsession of rotation to nights. They used to make her ill, and she often used to go sick afterwards as it took her so long to recover. In the same vein, there were nurses where nights fit in well with their home lives but were forced to rotate to days, causing problems with their families and child care. They were not allowed to swap! ludicrous!

    Why deny those who would prefer to work nights? They are doing us all a favour. Surely just a little bit more lateral thinking and good management practice would help to make a happier and healthier workforce with less sick leave? Would also help with staff retention instead of looking abroad.

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  • I used to have to work a lot of nights because many of my colleagues said they couldn't do them due to lack of childcare. I became chronically tired, and my ability to sleep during the day was diminished. I left that job, and now do 50 percent nights and 50 percent days which is a lot better. It would be nice to do just days, but that would be unfair on my colleagues, and there aren't a lot of nursing jobs that are days only.

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  • Rotation was beastly. I couldn't sleep - modern life seems to demand noise, traffic, music, phones, etc. all the time.

    On one night duty week, I developed pyelonephritis & septicaemia, but apart from the backache, I truly didn't notice how ill I was until I fainted and fell down the hospital stairs.

    Staff on night duty need more OH support, better breaks and better senior supervision. 7-10 nights in a row is not good for anyone's health.

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  • I am lucky rotation does not effect me, nights are not a problem.. But if staff prefer to do nights give them the opportunity but to do 3 weeks nights and 1 week days, staff who prefer days should do nights once a month. What does make me grumpy is doing 12 hours on and 12 hours off, and clinicians who don't think you need a break or go to the loo, and doing overtime without pay or a thank you. This ruins my social life, can't have a drink on my day off or late night because I am working the next day. Oh and visiting the family is out of the question because its a 6 hour journey there and 6 hours back. Oh and do not give anyone 6 or 7 days on the trot, thats unfair.Off duty request are null and void, even the nurse computer manager cannot see the problem but she works 9 to 5 and probably does not have a social life. Sometimes I think you get rotten shifts if the manager as thing about you. So when looking for a North London job ( A & E ) sus it out at interview and try and get it in writing.

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  • I agree why not let nurses who prefer nights do nights. where I work its if you fit in with the person doing the off duty you will get what you want if you don't you get rubbish shifts. I also think that 9pm finishes to 7am starts shouldn't be allowed they are not in other jobs

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