Regardless of the work carried out, daytime work, from Monday to Friday, for 7 to 8 consecutive hours, remains the norm in the European Union. However, some employees are faced with atypical hours, even nighttime, which can harm their health. A new study suggests in particular that night work promotes the appearance of sleep disorders, impacting the physical and mental health of the people concerned.
“There is ample evidence that shift work reduces sleep quality. However, little is known about how different types of shift work influence the prevalence of various sleep disorders, and how this may vary by demographic characteristics.“, explains Dr Marike Lancel, researcher at the GGZ Drenthe mental health institute in the Netherlands, in a press release.
A team of Dutch researchers therefore sought to evaluate the association between different models of shift work, which leads employees to work at night, certain sociodemographic factors, and sleep disorders. To do this, they studied data from 37,662 workers, classified according to their working hours (classic day, early morning, evening, night and rotating work). Beyond the demographic information transmitted to the researchers, the participants were asked to answer a questionnaire mainly relating to sleep disorders.
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One in two night workers affected
Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, this work suggests that night work, when regular, is the most harmful form for sleep. One in two affected participants notably confided having slept less than 6 hours in an entire day, while 51% reported a sleep disorder and 26% at least two sleep disorders. For comparison, almost a third of all participants were affected by at least one sleep disorder, and almost 13% by at least two disorders of this type.
If we now look at demographic factors, men seem more affected by lack of sleep than women, but the latter suffer more from sleep disorders. These disparities are also observed according to age groups: older workers sleep less, but it is young people aged 30 or younger who suffer the most from sleep disorders.
“We have shown that, compared to working regular daytime hours, atypical hours are associated with a higher frequency of sleep disorders, particularly in the case of rotating and regular night shift work.“, indicates Dr Marike Lancel. And to conclude: “People working night shifts will remain out of sync with the day work-oriented environment in which they live, so it is unlikely that all negative consequences of night work will be completely prevented“.
This is not the first time that these nighttime working hours have been singled out for their impact on health. In 2018, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) indicated: “The evolution of the organization of work today leads an increasingly large number of French people to work at night”, evoking in particular “the proven effects of these schedules on the occurrence of sleep disorders as well as the probable effects on the appearance of cancers and certain cardiovascular pathologies and also repercussions on the mental health of the worker“. A report following which the French agency encouraged better supervision of this type of work, or even limiting it.