How Shift Work Affects Circadian Rhythm? Sleeping Tips for Night Workers Update 04/2024

When was the last time you woke up at 3 a.m. to start your day? Even if you’ve been sleeping all day, your body will try to encourage you to stay in bed and go to sleep again. After all, it’s getting late.

The term “graveyard shift” is often used to describe night shift work. According to an old tradition, graveyard personnel were on the watch for situations in which they had unintentionally buried a person who was still alive.

Because nocturnal working hours are often compared to a graveyard, the term “graveyard shift” has been coined.

However, we believe the graveyard shift is a more apt moniker. It has the potential to hasten your demise if you are not careful. What do you think? You may want to consider trading schedules or at the very least adopting some of our suggestions to lessen the stress on your health if you realize how bad this type of employment may be for you.
For this post, we’ll focus on how night shift work impacts the circadian rhythm.

Which Jobs Normally Include Shift Work?

Work schedules that require shifts are categorized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics into three broad categories:
How Shift Work Affects the Circadian Rhythm | Sleep Advisor

Shifts that run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays are included in this category. Evening shifts are common in the following professions:

  • Employees in the food service industry, such as waiters, busboys, and prep cooks
  • Hairdressers, salon workers, personal trainers, and other employees in the personal care industry
  • Employees in the retail and real estate industries as well as cashiers
  • Arts, sports, health care, and media professionals, such as musicians and directors, as well as broadcast technicians

Shifts that run from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. are considered night shifts. Night shifts are common in the following jobs:

  • Medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, as well as paramedics
  • Medical assistants, mental aides, veterinary assistants, and other support personnel
  • Protective service personnel, such as firefighters, police officers, and security guards
  • Some examples are bakers, machine shop technicians and assembly line workers.
  • Drivers of commercial vehicles, air traffic controllers, conveyor belt operators, and other personnel involved in the transportation and movement of goods.

A 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift is considered an early morning shift. The following are typical professions that require shift work:

  • Engineers and architects
  • Workers in the construction and extraction industries include carpenters, machinery operators, roofers, and others.
  • Farmers, fishermen, and foresters are all included in this group.
  • Installers, maintainers, and repairers of aircraft and industrial machinery and telecommunications equipment

What Is a Rotating Shift?

Shift workers often have a set schedule that includes certain start and end hours and days of the week for each shift. In contrast, rotating schedules may have distinct shift periods and/or different workdays that change from week to weeks.

Employers have different needs when it comes to rotating shifts. Schedules such as this are among the most prevalent.

  • Work shifts are alternated seven days in a row in the continental United States. Eight-hour shifts are the norm. Employees are given two or three days off after every seven-day work period.
  • It follows a 14-day schedule in Panama, known as the 2-2-3 schedule. After working 12-hour shifts for two or three days in a row, workers are given two or three days of vacation. So, in the first and second weeks of the 14-day cycle, they’ll work on different days of the week than normal.
  • Dupont: The Dupont system has a four-week rotation period. Every one to two weeks, employees alternate between working the day and night shifts. Three or four consecutive days of work, followed by one to three days off, will be the norm. The four-week program ends with seven straight days of vacation for the employee.

Workers who work rotating shifts must alter their schedules on a weekly or monthly basis, which might be more onerous than those who work permanent shifts. It’s possible to move your circadian rhythms more readily from day to night to early morning shifts, but this isn’t always possible. Circadian rhythms are disrupted more when the rotation is reversed or random.

As a result, rotating shifts might be difficult for certain workers, as they are compelled to change their sleep-wake schedule every few weeks. Rotating every five to seven days is the most difficult for many people. To avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm, it is better to rotate more frequently (every two to three days or so) than rotate less frequently (every few days).
How Shift Work Affects the Circadian Rhythm | Sleep Advisor

Pros and Cons of Shift Work

Shift employment has many advantages, including:

  • If you’re more productive when the sun sets, a night shift may be right for you; if you’re more prolific when the sun rises, a shift in the early morning may be right for you.
  • You’ll be able to go to work more quickly if you avoid roads and highways during peak traffic hours, making it easier for you to get there.
  • Day shifts pay more than night ones: Shift employees in the United States aren’t legally compelled to be paid more, but some companies reward those who work unconventional shifts.

Shift work has a number of drawbacks, including:

  • As a result of working irregular shifts, shift work disorder can cause sleep issues for those who suffer.
  • Symptoms include sleeplessness when the person is trying to sleep and excessive tiredness while they are awake. shift workers are more likely to suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders even if their symptoms are not severe enough to qualify as a disease. When cortisol and testosterone levels are out of whack, it has a negative impact on quality of life and can result in feelings of exhaustion and low energy.
  • Disruptions in routine: Working late into the night and waking up early might cause major disruptions in one’s personal and professional life.
  • Added dangers to the road conditions: Even if there is less traffic for shift employees to deal with, the chance of a drowsy driving accident is higher for them. There are a disproportionate number of collisions involving lone drivers who have no passengers between the hours of midnight and six a.m. or in the late afternoon.

How does Night Shift Work Affects Our Sleep?

Our circadian cycle is disrupted by night shift work. A circadian system is a biological mechanism that repeats itself every 24 hours in a 24-hour cycle. It’s like our body’s own internal timepiece..” In the daytime, it tells us to be awake and aware, while at night it tells us to be sleeping or drowsy. It’s also producing a variety of hormones and chemicals within, which are in charge of controlling things like body temperature, appetite, and digestion. When people work these hours, their circadian rhythm is thrown off, and they are no longer able to sleep at night as they once did. On the other hand, when the light comes up, most individuals automatically awaken and become more attentive. However, when people are forced to work such a long shift, they have to make a greater effort to fall and stay asleep. Some people may develop a condition known as “shift-work sleep disorder” if they continue to work this schedule. Insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness are two of the most common symptoms (EDS).

Effects of Disrupted Circadian Rhythm


Fatigue is one of the most noticeable impacts of ignoring these signals by staying awake when it’s dark and trying to sleep during the day. Their circadian clock tells them to do the opposite of what they’re doing, and they fight it every day. They’ll have a hard time staying up while doing their bedtime responsibilities. And it’s possible that it’ll be even more difficult to sleep after the night is done and it’s time for bed. There is always a risk of exhaustion even if we stick to a new plan with discipline and regularity.

Sleep Disorders

Shift workers are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation and excessive daytime sleepiness as a result of the strain on their circadian rhythms. The trouble in falling asleep is caused by the fact that they’re typically trying to sleep during the day, while the rest of the world is awake. Due to our internal clocks, we tend to get sleepy at night, and this is normal.

Mood Problems

Mood disorders are often caused by exhaustion and sleep deprivation. Hormones are thrown off balance when the circadian clock is out of sync, which further exacerbates the problem.

Decreased Cognitive Abilities

When subjects were tested for cognitive ability, those on a modified work schedule performed much worse than those on a regular schedule. Middle-aged people are most affected, showing that it becomes more difficult to adjust to a new schedule as we age.

Poor Reflexes

When people are tired, their reaction times are slower than when they are awake. Fatigue weakens the brain’s reflexes, making it more difficult to react quickly.

Weak Immune System

For more than just waking us up and falling asleep, the circadian rhythm plays an important role. It also delivers a strong signal to the body’s immune system. Those signals cease to exist when the clock stops. Those who have this illness are more susceptible to colds, flu, and potentially long-term health issues.

Poor Decision Making

Sleep deprivation has been linked to a decrease in one’s ability to make good decisions. In part, this is related to drowsiness and an inability to concentrate. Sleep deprivation can also alter the brain’s chemical composition, making the fight-or-flight response even more active after just one night of disrupted sleep patterns. Your ability to make sensible decisions decreases when you’re in a state of “fight-or-flight” rather than a calm, relaxed condition.

What is Graveyard Shift Work Disorder?

Having a shift pattern that falls outside of “regular” hours can lead to graveyard shift job disorder. Those who wake up in the night to go to work or begin their day are at risk of developing this disorder. This condition needs a regimen that calls for resting throughout the day and staying up late at night. This is in direct conflict with the circadian rhythm, which governs the body’s internal clock. Insomnia when it’s time to sleep and daytime sleepiness when it’s time to be awake are the most obvious symptoms of a messed-up body clock. Nearly a quarter of all Americans, including emergency medical technicians, police officers, truck drivers, and others, are at risk of developing this illness.

How it Affects our Health


Both the body’s chemistry and the context influence how we experience stress. Aside from the hormonal imbalance, there’s also a psychological component to the adverse effects. It can feel like you’re missing out on time with friends and family if you’re not on the same schedule as everyone else. In addition, the “graveyard shift” is a peaceful period. It might be a lonely experience for individuals who are up during this time when the rest of the world is asleep.

Health Problems

Many diseases, including cancer, have been linked to shift work disorder. This schedule has been linked to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. As a result, they are more likely to develop diabetes and obesity.


Seven percent of fatal car accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep or becoming drowsy behind the wheel. Additionally, weariness is thought to have a role in many other traffic-related deaths, including those caused by speeding and crashes.

Trouble Concentrating

Shift work disorder can cause mental impairment and difficulties concentration, among other symptoms. Being tired or drowsy can be a factor, as can a brain that’s having a hard time adapting to a new schedule.
The Effects of Night Shift Work on Sleep!

Poor Job Performance

Shift workers are more likely than typical employees to be absent from work or make mistakes. We also talked about how poor judgment might limit one’s capacity to do their work effectively.

Sleeping Tips for Night Workers

Avoid Working a Number of Night Shifts in a Row

Your best approach may be to stick to a regular routine rather than forcing your body into a perpetual state of acclimatization. To help workers transition to night shifts, Rush University devised a system that helped their bodies show no signs of physical limitations that often accompany working the graveyard shift after a short adjustment period.

Avoid Frequent Rotating Shifts

For your health, rotating shifts between day and night shifts is one of the worst things you can do. The dangers of putting their employees on such a schedule are well-known to the majority of business owners. Even so, schedule rotations may be unavoidable if you’re doing numerous jobs, working in a high-stress area like a hospital or police station, or taking care of children. Try the remainder of these suggestions to counteract the consequences of an inconsistent schedule if that’s the case.

Avoid Long Commutes

Sleep deprivation can be compounded by a long commute. In addition, sleep-deprived workers are more likely to get into a car accident, so it makes sense to limit driving time.

Keep Your Workplace Lighted

Work should never be confined to a dimly lit room just because it is dark outside. You can reduce some of the affects of your body’s internal clock telling you it’s time to go to sleep by making sure your workspace is well-lit.

Limit Caffeine

To get through the night, caffeine may be necessary, but it should be avoided at all costs. An artificially stimulated system at the end of an exhausting shift might produce a continual cycle of insomnia, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Avoid Bright Lights on Your Way Home

It’s time to wind down for the day and get some sleep now that your “work day” is finished. As a result, bright lights should be avoided on the trip home. Take dark sunglasses and avoid running errands if you can’t avoid it if you’re taking public transportation or your shift ends while the sun is out.

Stick to a Regular Sleep-Wake Schedule

If possible, attempt to maintain a regular work schedule even when you’re on vacation. When it comes to socializing, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Stay up as late as possible on your days off, then sleep in until close to midday the next day, as per our advice. It’s still possible to spend time with loved ones if you sleep from 3 AM to roughly 11 AM on a graveyard shift, for example.

Limit Phone Calls and Visitors

Tell your loved ones when you’re going to bed and ask them not to call or text you during that time. In the middle of the day, it can be difficult to get back to sleep if you’ve been woken up.

Use Blackout Blinds or Heavy Curtains

Put blackout curtains in your bedroom to create an environment of utter darkness, even though it’s daylight. Creating a cave-like environment will help you fall asleep and remain asleep more easily.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there psychological effects of working on a graveyard shift?

And they’re frequently forgotten about. Working the night shift may be a lonely experience. There is a good chance that most of your friends and family members are fast sleeping. Most of the time, they’re up and about when you’re winding down or getting ready for bed. As a result, it might lead to feelings of loneliness and despair. It may be difficult, but make an effort on your days off to rearrange your schedule in order to spend time with the people you cherish.

How can a shift work disorder be treated?

The first step is to make use of the advice provided in this piece. This issue can be treated and you can lead an ordinary life in spite of your new schedule provided you follow good sleep hygiene practices. To help you stay awake or fall asleep more quickly, medication may be administered. Antidepressants for mood and sleep are also commonly prescribed by doctors, but this is not always the best course of action.

How to survive a night shift with no sleep?

Tips to help you get through the night shift if you’re having trouble staying awake:

  1. Make the most of your “lunch” break by taking a quick snooze. Make sure you stick to the 20-minute limit, or you’ll be groggy for the rest of the night.
  2. Consume sparingly. Indulging is a good way to stay awake, but be careful not to overindulge or your waistline may pay the price.
  3. Get up and go for a walk. Get up and move around at regular intervals. Drowsiness can set in if you sit stationary for too long.
  4. It’s best to get it out in the open. Talk to your co-workers. While alone, listen to a podcast or watch a show and contribute your own commentary. It’s not as outlandish as it may seem at first glance.

Am I at a greater risk of cancer if I do shift work?

Maybe is the quick answer.

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) believes shift employment may cause cancer because it interferes with circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock) (our internal clock). Only a few studies have been done on humans to support this result.


Remember that roughly 20% of the population has a schedule that makes it impossible to lead a regular life, so don’t feel like you’re the only one. If you plan ahead, it is possible to have a healthy schedule even if you work a little harder.

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