Night shifts have benefits, drawbacks for employees

09/15/2013 12:00 AM

09/14/2013 5:23 PM

The world keeps turning while most of us sleep.

And for those who work the night shift, it’s business as usual.

Andrea Bottenberg, a registered nurse at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis in the cancer institute, has been working two night shifts a week for nearly four years.

Bottenberg said the schedule works for her family because she was able to cut back to part time on the night shift and still make a little more money than before because of the difference in pay.

Now, she’s able to spend part of the day with her daughter Brynn, 3, instead of putting her in day care.

“I feel like I have the best of both worlds,” Bottenberg said. “I have a career and job that I love, but I’m also able to be home with my daughter.”

Although it works for now, Bottenberg said she doesn’t want to work the night shift forever.

“One of these days, I would like to go back to the day shift and be on a routine with the rest of the world,” she said.

Working nights doesn’t suit everyone, especially morning larks, says physician Thomas Bloxham, sleep medicine specialist for Via Christi’s Sleep Medicine Center of Kansas.

“Those who are ‘early to bed, early to rise’ really struggle with it,” he said.

Most people who work the night shift get less sleep in general because it is difficult to sleep more than five consecutive hours in the daytime, Bloxham said. Things like family or pets making noises, the doorbell ringing, and not being able to get the house dark enough can hinder sleep.

Those who have rotating shifts or who struggle with the night shift also might experience other symptoms, such as increased upset stomach, ulcers and cardiovascular problems, Bloxham said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent data from 2004, more than 80 percent of wage and salary workers had a daytime work schedule sometime between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

More than any other group, African-Americans were likely to work alternate shifts, and men are more likely than women to do so, according to the data.

To adjust to a shift, people shouldn’t consume caffeine at the end of their shift and they should try to take naps before they go to work, the health care experts say. Another thing that can help is exposing yourself to sunlight or bright light before a shift, Bloxham said.

“It can help shift the circadian rhythm to help delay it,” he said. “You’re tricking yourself into feeling that it’s morning with the bright light to help start your day.”

The circadian rhythm is the body’s 24-hour schedule that is related to hormones, temperature, sleep and other functions of the body.

About 15 percent of people who work night shifts experience significant problems, Bloxham said, including Shift Work Related Sleep Disorder, in which the person is especially tired during their work shift.

“Without getting any frequent flier miles, you feel jetlagged without ever leaving home,” he said.

Blair Sumner, 28, said he often feels like he’s on a roller coaster with his shifts.

He said the third shift often isn’t considered by people who work more regular hours.

“Most people don’t really think about third-shifters,” he said. “If I go to bed at 7 a.m. and get woken up by someone mowing their lawn, it’s not a big deal to them. If I were to mow my lawn at 11 p.m., someone would call the cops.”

Sumner helps train people who work the night shift for QuikTrips across the Wichita area and picks up other shifts as needed. He’s been with the company about five years.

“I tell trainees they definitely have to make sleep a priority,” he said.

“During the day it’s a lot of running around. At night, I have the responsibility to get the store back up to 100 percent, to get everything clean and pristine,” Sumner said. “It gives me a sense of pride and it’s a good feeling to hand off a good store. You’re the guy who takes care of everything behind the scenes as far as day-to-day operations. ... It’s wild, but I love it.”

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