In an insightful revelation, researchers from GGZ Drenthe and Groningen University have identified young workers, especially those with lower education levels, as the demographic most susceptible to developing sleep disorders due to shift work. The research, based on a survey of over 37,000 Flemish individuals, pointed out the highest vulnerability in those engaged in night and rotating shifts. However, risks were also noted in evening and early morning shifts.
The Impact of Shift Work on Sleep Patterns
The study found that half of the night shift workers sleep less than six hours a day, marking a significant deviation from the recommended healthy sleep duration. The same proportion of individuals was reported to suffer from at least one chronic sleep disorder, defined as a condition persisting for more than three months. Alarming still, more than a quarter of the surveyed population were found to struggle with at least two sleep disorders. Young adults with lower education levels reported shorter sleep duration and heightened sleep issues, a situation possibly exacerbated by factors such as cramped living spaces and the nature of their work.
Unveiling the Spectrum of Sleep Disorders
This groundbreaking research, the second of its kind globally, delved into various sleep disorders. These include insomnia, hypersomnia, parasomnia, sleep apnea, movement disorders, and sleep-wake rhythm disruptions. All these disorders were found to be more prevalent among young people and women, with the notable exception of sleep apnea, which was more common in men.
Lessening the Adverse Effects of Shift Work
While the research underscored the negative effects of shift work on sleep, it also highlighted the potential to minimize these effects. Maintaining regular routines, maximizing daylight exposure, staying active, and sustaining social life were suggested as beneficial practices. However, these measures are unlikely to completely nullify the adverse effects of shift work on sleep.
Call for Greater Employer Attention
With over a fifth of European Union workers engaged in shift work, the study's findings carry significant implications. Researcher Marike Lancel has called for greater employer attention to the impact of shift work, particularly in sectors like healthcare where scheduling is often poorly managed. As the lines between work and rest blur increasingly in a fast-paced world, this appeal underlines the urgency for a more empathetic and responsible approach towards shift scheduling and employee well-being.