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Researchers offer strategies for improving shift worker health

Photo: gorodenkoff/iStockphoto

Vallejo, CA — Citing multiple studies that suggest shift workers are at increased risk of developing sleep disorders and metabolic syndrome – raising their chances for heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes – a recent analysis led by a researcher from the Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine concludes with actions both employers and workers can take to help improve shift worker health.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 15 million Americans perform some form of shift work.

“The strength of our economy and safety of our society depend heavily on night shift workers,” lead study author Kshma Kulkarni said in a Feb. 3 press release. “It is critical we address the health issues facing people in this line of work.”


Suggested actions for employers include:

  • Eliminating rotating shifts that disrupt sleep patterns
  • Scheduling shifts to begin before midnight and last no longer than 11 hours to help workers stabilize circadian rhythms
  • Scheduling regular breaks earlier in shifts
  • Ensuring vending machines offer nutritious options
  • Establishing health programs that promote healthy behavior

Workers can:

  • Sleep for one block of seven to eight hours every 24 hours, ideally at the same time each day
  • Nap for an additional 20 to 120 minutes before shifts to minimize fatigue
  • Increase light exposure before and throughout shifts to boost wakefulness
  • Avoid blue light exposure from electronic devices two to three hours before bedtime to boost sleep quality
  • Exercise at a similar time each day, at least five hours before sleeping

“It’s true that getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising are critical to everyone’s health,” Kulkarni said. “However, the nature of shift work is so disorienting and discordant with those principles, we really need to help people in those jobs strategize ways to get what they need.”

The analysis was published in the February issue of The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

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