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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

The Night Shift May Be Dangerous to Your Health

Published December 11, 2007 9:55 AM by Glen McDaniel

Hospitals never close and most clinical laboratories operate 24/7 to provide essential diagnostic services. Most laboratorians have a shift preference; with a minority preferring third, or so called "graveyard" shift. 

Whether it's a personal preference or a management requirement, at least some laboratorians must work third shift. We are all familiar with the feeling that "night shift techs are different from day shift."

Those who choose that shift voluntarily often like the quiet atmosphere, more casual feel, the lack of politics and freedom from management breathing down their necks. For others, it just fits better with their work/home situation or other commitments, such as school.

Some like the fact that they build more of a rapport with others in the hospital (e.g., nurses and ED doctors) who also customarily work the night shift.

However, a new study released by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston finds third shift may be dangerous to your health

They found an increased risk of various cancers, including colorectal cancer in those who work overnight. Apparently, it has something to do with circadian rhythms. The researchers theorized that being exposed to light during hours the body expects to be asleep and provide melatonin might be a part of the puzzle.

Apparently, even rotating overnight shifts might have an effect.

15 comments

i have worked graveyard shift for the past 21 yrs. its easy shift to work. you miss out in sleep, when you are invovled in your childrens sports. its even harder when you dont get the oh so well needed sleep. we do alot of 16 hour shifts, i find working 1500-2300 into 2300-0700 easy. but its hard on a person to work 2300-0700 into 0700-1500 shift. i find it hard to adjust my meds for my diabetes. i take my day meds at night and my night meds in the day. which is having my sugar out of control.

mary , tech - pto, mental hospital January 6, 2009 10:30 PM

So, here's the deal.  There will continue to be a need for clinical lab services 24 hours a day, so someone has to work the night shift. In practice new grads, junior employees and brand new employees can be expected to pay their dues and work the least desirable shifts-and that's usually the night shift, weekends etc, until they have paid their dues enough.

For many, working nights is a necessary evil-either they have no choice because of scheduling or they are making a sacrifice because of other commitments such a school, family and the like.

There is a minority who actually like that shift because of the way their body adapts or because they are happier with the workload and less micro management.

Some people like Brian have no problems at all coping physically and psychologically, while others find it a constant challenge. The thing to do whenever possible is to find a good match. Whenever possible, schedule people who actually WANT to work the night shift, rather than use it as a rite of passage or punishment. For those who have to work it, why not see it as an opportunity to learn and get more done in other areas of your life?  

As Brian suggests honing deliberate coping skills-including finding a balance of exercise, diet, responsibilities-will certainly make working the night shift less "hazardous" and possibly even enjoyable.

Glen January 15, 2008 12:48 PM
Atlanta

Vivian is darn straight - politics does NOT contribute in any positive, constructive way to patient care!  Also, it may very well contribute to the constant turnover of MTs in certain facilities with "bad reputations" for not appreciating their technologists (actually treating them the OPPOSITE of the way the supervisors/colleagues would like to be treated themselves).  

With the current emphasis on CUSTOMER SERVICE, have any of these psychologically "toxic" individuals stopped to think that they may be exhibiting extremely poor customer service to their internal customers (co-workers, employees)?

I've read that many studies have been performed in the nursing field which demonstrate that verbal abuse, humiliation, and destructive criticism contribute to absenteeism and turnover of nurses - and many of them ultimately choosing another career field.  Are there any similar studies in the literature concerning the medical laboratory field, or will I need to research this area for a master's degree thesis?

Stephanie Mathis, Generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network December 24, 2007 7:01 AM
Winston Salem NC

Being able to work 2nd or 3rd shift was one of reasons I became an MLT 21 years ago. I had found out that  I was a natural night person years before I became an MLT. A lot of problems arise when anyone goes against their circadian rhythm. You are pushing your body around when it's trying to get rid of toxins.   and the build-up of toxins can reek havoc on anyboby's body. For me to work days is like a day person working at 2:00 a.m. and just as foolish. I believe that only natural night persons should be allowed to work nights. And, conversely, only natural day persons should be allowed to work days.  None of this rotating shifts. It is unhealthy and, after all, we are IN THE HEALTH PROFESSION, HELLO! I also believe more people are night people than know it. Perhaps there shoud a way to check this out and rules implemented to put people on the work schedules that coincide with their ciircadian rhythms. It's just as wrong to put night people on day shifts as to put day people on night shifts. Neither one is "superior" than the other. No stigmatism. We are all necessary, valuable, and needed. Yes, I have been made to feel like an odd duck, but a healthier odd duck. I actually thive on evening and/or night shift. I do feel sorry for night shift personnel who have to raise children.  There definitely needs to be a rethinking in this area, maybe a quiet revolution if we are going to be able to attract and retain adequate lab personnel. And I agree and emphathize with the politics part. I think more lab techs leave because of politics more than any other reason.How does politics help the patient? How does having  day people work nights and vise versa help patients?

     ...Help, I'm a night person trapped ina day-person world!

VIVIAN DANCY, Laboratory - MLT, Travel Tech December 21, 2007 6:52 PM
TOWER HILL IL

I THINK BALANCE IS THE KEY TO A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE.  I'VE WORKED 3RD SHIFT THE MAJORITY OF THE TIME I'VE BEEN IN THE MEDICAL FIELD AND I'VE LEARN TO BALANCE THINGS SUCH AS EXERCISE, EATING, SCHOOL WORK, FAMILY TIME, TRAVEL AND SLEEP. I FEEL GRRRRRRREAT!!!!!!!

BRIAN , MT December 20, 2007 4:46 AM
EVERYWHERE TN

I have worked night shift for the past 4 years. I enjoy the benefits of more pay, less politics and not being "stuck" working just one area of the lab. I have been a MLT for 20 years. I have worked various hospitals and shifts.

I think the main problem with overnight workers is they do not stick to a normal routine. Many will go home and sleep for a few hours and then get up and go back to sleep a few hours prior to their shift. Just like day workers, any time you vary your hours you are prone to not sleeping well or enough.

I have worked out a routine that works for me and my family. Sometimes you have to gently remind them that your schedule and days are not the same as theirs. But if you are adament about your routine, you find it gets easier with time.

Nights are definately not for everyone, but for us that work it, it can be finacially profitable and professionally fulling.

SUSAN, LAB - MLT, NMMC December 20, 2007 12:04 AM
FORT KENT ME

I did morning shift almost for a year which is my favorite, but now i am doing evening shift which is not bad at all. However,sometimes i get stuck at night ,if someone calls in sick since i am the junior most Tech. I hate graveyard shift a lot , i am not a night person. whenever i do third shift, i feel so sick. I don't get back to my normal life for the  next two three days afterwards.

Harpal Kaur, Medical Technologist December 19, 2007 10:15 PM
Queens NY

I have worked the night shift for a little over a year now. For the first 6 months or so I really felt groggy most of the time. Now that I have adjusted (as have my family) and while I am tired when I get off in the morning I find that in this facility I prefer the night shift. I get the shift differential, a much more relaxed atmosphere, less management, and it is entirely up to me when the stats get out, and I get to work closely with the ER doctor and nurses. It can get hectic but I find it a source of pride when the ER asked who I called in to help and I can tell them I did it myself or I can troubleshoot and fix the instruments myself. I turned down a day shift position so that I did not have to deal with the politics.

Carey, MT, Generalist December 19, 2007 10:11 PM
AZ

I have worked the night shift for a little over a year now. For the first 6 months or so I really felt groggy most of the time. Now that I have adjusted (as have my family) and while I am tired when I get off in the morning I find that in this facility I prefer the night shift. I get the shift differential, a much more relaxed atmosphere, less management, and it is entirely up to me when the stats get out, and I get to work closely with the ER doctor and nurses. It can get hectic but I find it a source of pride when the ER asked who I called in to help and I can tell them I did it myself or I can troubleshoot and fix the instruments myself. I turned down a day shift position so that I did not have to deal with the politics.

Carey, MT, Generalist December 19, 2007 10:11 PM
AZ

There are some hospitals in North Carolina who have only staffed third shift with ONE technologist as recently as last year.  For example, I did not accept a 3rd shift position offered to me by a hospital lab in Mount Airy in the spring of 2006 because I would be by myself between midnight and 6 AM.  Even THINKING about having to call someone, and drag them out of bed for what they might think was a silly unwarranted question, just provoked entirely too much anxiety for a recent MT graduate such as myself.  

Therefore, I took a "weekend option" job working three 12-hour first shifts in Eden; the pay was higher than that of my previous position, but it did not come close to compensating me for being treated like dirt by the lab supervisor. (See "Work and Play" posts for the gory details of that and other job situations in which I've found myself during the last three years.)

In Thomasville, the 3rd shift tech worked by him/herself for eight hours out of a 12-hour shift (11P-7A) three short years ago.

Stephanie Mathis, Generalist - Medical Technologist, Medical Staffing Network December 18, 2007 8:07 AM
Winston Salem NC

I've worked night shift since day 1 of my career - 7 years straight now.  I like working the night shift, casual and quiet.  When I was on vacation for 2 weeks this past May 2007, I got back on the "normal" schedule of sleeping at night and being awake during the day.  I got lightheaded and felt malaise on my last few days of vacation!  I stayed in bed at the hotel sleeping my malaise off for the last few days.

And during vacation, I was tired.  I find that I am always tired on my downtime. No matter what. I can sleep sitting up on a noisy subway car!  I slept like a baby in the upright position in coach class on the plane! I always have to shut my eyes for a few seconds while dining out!  When it's my day off, I sleep 12 hours, wake up, then sleep another 4.  The first day back to work, I am groggy and cranky.  I learned to control the crankiness and realize that it 's the messed up sleep pattern I have that causes my irritability.  By day 3 during the week, I am more alert and not as tired.  Then the cycle starts again.  

I am 35 years old, and I wonder what my body will do ten years from now while still working the night shift.  

I have no children and I can't imagine how the other night techs with children handle working at night and taking care of children during the day.  Or even taking care of teens while working at night.  I salute all night techs with families to raise!!

Haydee, MT, ASCP December 17, 2007 2:12 PM
Bronx NY

The fact of the matter third shifts is one of the hard shift compare from the other shifts only because you get all the specimens from twelve till eight in the morning the worse part if

one of the instrument becomes inoperable here comes the bad part about it. ER, Nurses from different floors will keep calling for the stats every techs will get agitated not to mention there are only two of you working that time it's so frustrated if you cannot get any help from anyone at some point. I would say that alone makes you tired and feel disgusted for the entire shift you are working. By the time you were about to go home you feel sleepy

and exhausted.

Elizabeth, MS, BSMT December 13, 2007 7:52 PM
Union NJ

I worked night shift for three years.  I am currently working evening shift (my preference).  Whether it be my age or the years working night shift, my sleep pattern is still off.  I am quite sure health issues arise from working against normal hours.  There were many mornings I made it home safely, but could not recall the drive home at all.

Anna, Generalist - MT December 12, 2007 1:59 AM
MO

Many do not choose to work this shift voluntarily.  This is the only option for many, as first and second shifts are generally staffed better than thirds.  Unfortunately, some one new to a facility or with lower seniority is stuck on the undesirable third shift.  

In addition to a lot of the scientific (cancer, melatonin, cortisol, weight gain, etc.) risks that one takes on working this shift, there are physical risks associated as well.  Many are tired and weary when leaving in the morning for their drive home.  I, like many, have fallen asleep at the wheel while driving home due to extreme fatigue.  A few people I know have even wrecked.  

Pleas from individuals working this shift to find ways to make this schedule easier and more manageable to work have often been fallen onto deaf ears.

Which is worse?  Driving drunk or driving tired?  I say they are one in the same.  Both have impaired reaction time, impaired judgement as well as drowsiness.

Unfortunately many of these "dis-benefits" of graveyard shift are why many leave the field.  This is all that there is out there and nobody wants/desires them.  They go in a different direction - to find a field that is more appealing to both them and their personal lives.

They could double my salary, but if I had the option of taking a day job, they could keep their money.  Many have left our facility to take day jobs (some even paying considerably less) elsewhere that do not have eve/night hours weekend or holidays.

I do have to say that there are few 'creative' benefits to working night shift though.  The people are generally more laid back, the commute is easier (you are driving in opposite direction of the morning rush hr. commute)and it is a quieter and less hectic atmosphere.

Ryan, MT December 11, 2007 11:37 AM
Buffalo NY

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December 11, 2007 11:09 AM

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