Thursday, October 2, 2014
Yesterday, at the annual conference of the Canadian Occupational Health Nurses in Saint John, New Brunswick, I was delighted to hear a presentation by Christie Ruff, a nursing practice consultant for the Province of New Brunswick, who spoke on the impact of sleep and shift work on health and wellness.
As Ruff pointed out, shift work is “officially” defined as any work that happens on a regular basis outside of 8.00 am to 5.00 pm, Mondays to Fridays. Work includes any of the work you take home, any checking of work related e-mails or even carrying a pager so you can be reached.
Based on this definition, the vast majority of the working population is doing shift work. Yet, virtually none of us have any formal “education” on how best to deal with the many problems that regular shift work poses for our health and well-being.
One program that addresses this issue is a program called “Shifting to Wellness“, developed at Keyanu College in Fort MacMurray, Alberta, and provides a two-day workshop for employees, who work shifts. Ruff has been a Master Trainer for this program for over 10 years.
The program looks in detail at how better understanding natural circadian rhythms, can allow shift workers to better cope with burden of shift work – from catching up on sleep to healthy eating and physical activity patterns.
From an employer perspective, this is far from trivial. Shift workers are far more prone to making mistakes and having accidents (or simply clicking the “send” button a moment too soon). Many major workplace disasters were the direct result of workplace fatigue, inattention and errors made by shift workers often fatigued from lack of sleep.
Indeed, the presentation included a comprehensive review of the stages of sleep and how these are affected (and may be corrected) in shift workers.
The “crankiness” and “irritability” of shift workers is directly related to their lack of REM sleep, as is their higher rates of depression and decreased ability to deal with stressors.
These factors also affect other aspects including personal relationships and decisions.
As readers will be well aware, lack of sleep has also been linked to appetite and hunger as well as metabolic health.
No doubt, learning more about sleep, fatigue and how to address these issues is something that any health professional working in obesity prevention or management needs to pursue to better serve their clients (and themselves).