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IT Night Shift Workers: Overweight and Undersexed

The results of a recent survey released today by Men's Health Network and Cephalon, found that shift workers, people who work non-traditional hours including IT professionals working overnight shifts, report that these shifts can negatively impact their health, work and well-being.

shift work disorder

The survey revealed that the majority of shift workers (79%) believe that they are negatively impacted by their shift work and voiced daily concern over their energy level (47%), weight (43%), and their sex lives (30%). 

Additionally, the survey showed that the average shift worker hasn't had a meal with their family in two weeks or exercised in 24 days. Looking around at some of the industry conferences, it's clear that many IT professionals, even those working "normal business hours", haven't exercised in 24 days. Sadly, this is probably true for most of America.

At least 15 million Americans perform some type of shift work, according to Scott Williams, Vice President of Men's Health Network.

The survey results suggested an impact of shift work on people's work productivity, with one in three shift workers reporting having missed work altogether at least once in the past year because they were too tired. And three in ten surveyed (29%) said that they have dozed off at work in the past month, most of them multiple times, with another 37% saying they've come close. Still, more people surveyed are worried about job security than their own safety.

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"The recent incidents with air traffic controllers falling asleep while on the clock have helped to highlight the impact of working night shifts and sleepiness on the job," Williams says. "With increased awareness of the issues associated with shift work, we hope that such incidents will become fewer and farther between."

In terms of emotional and psychological impact, more than half surveyed reported feeling frustrated (51%) and drained (51%) in the last week, with many others reporting irritability (42%), anxiety (36%) and anger (32%). 

"While the physical and emotional toll that shift workers are reporting is certainly of great concern, to me the most alarming finding of the survey is that a great majority of shift worker respondents (72%) seem to think that being tired is 'just a part of the job' and do not consider speaking with their physician about their symptoms," said Jean J.E. Bonhomme, M.D., MPH, spokesperson for Men's Health Network and Cephalon. "What we know is that people who work non-traditional hours may be suffering from a real medical condition called shift work disorder. This can be diagnosed and the symptoms can be treated by a doctor, if only they mention issues caused by their work schedule during visits to their healthcare professional."

According to Cephalon (not to be confused with Calphalon, makers of my favorite cookware!), shift work disorder is a recognized medical condition that occurs when an individual's internal sleep-wake clock is not in sync with their work schedule. Because of this disruption in the body's natural rhythm, people with shift work disorder may struggle to stay awake during their working hours, known as excessive sleepiness, or have trouble sleeping during their sleeping hours, known as insomnia, or both.

Also according to Cephalon, experts estimate that up to 25% of night or rotating shift workers have shift work disorder, which has potential consequences including decreased productivity and trouble focusing, and increased susceptibility to intestinal and heart diseases. However, the majority of shift workers surveyed (61%) said that they would sooner check in with a doctor about a cold or flu than if they were tired for three months or longer.

"It is easy to ignore the overall health impact of our work schedules, but it's so important that people experiencing excessive sleepiness or insomnia or both take the time to see a doctor and mention that they work nontraditional shifts," iterates Dr. Bonhomme. "Very often shift work disorder goes undiagnosed because either the physician or the patient is not making the connections between the symptoms, work schedule and condition."

The results of this survey really shouldn't be surprising. While the survey shows infers that shift workers may be overweight, the issue extends far beyond this group, and into the general population of the United States, including children. Childhood obesity is at all all time high in America and that has nothing to do with the night shift.

The survey was fielded online and was completed by 1,565 shift workers between May 25th and June 1st, 2011. You can learn more about shift work disorder and take a self-assessment at the Wake Up Squad here

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