Opinion

Kaufman: Alleviating the problems from shift work

About 25 per cent of the population does shift work, either long-term night shifts or work schedules where employees change or rotate shifts between daytime and evening or night schedules.

Being constantly tired is a typical complaint of shift workers, often described as “jet lag.” Shift work can also lead to health problems including insomnia, chronic fatigue and gastrointestinal disorders, and can interfere with regular social activities and family life.

The body is naturally attuned to a circadian rhythm—many of our body’s functions follow a daily rhythm or a 24-hour cycle. Sleeping, waking, digestion, secretion of adrenalin, body temperature, blood pressure, pulse and many other important body functions and human behaviour are regulated by this 24-hour cycle. These rhythmical processes are synchronized to allow for high activity during the day and low activity at night. However, if a person is working at night, the body rhythms get out of sync with the person’s activity pattern. This disorientation can lead to feelings of fatigue and disorientation, or “jet lag.” Also, exposure to light at night can alter sleep-activity patterns and suppress melatonin production, leading to insomnia or difficulty sleeping.

Frequent changes in schedule and disruption to circadian rhythms can lead to chronic fatigue and other health problems, including higher risk for heart attack and cardiovascular conditions, digestive problems such as indigestion, heartburn, stomachache and loss of appetite, and insomnia or sleeping disorders.

Shift work can also interfere with medications and the medical treatment of some diseases.

Because of the way that shift work disrupts the circadian rhythm, research suggests long-term shift work may also increase the risk of cancer. Shift workers are also at risk of eating a less healthy diet because the loss of appetite at night often leads to increased snacking on junk food, while fatigue may encourage the consumption of caffeinated drinks to help the worker stay awake.

Acupuncture can give stellar results for improving the well being and quality-of-life of shift workers.

Acupuncture is very effective for many of the symptoms that accompany shift work: It can improve energy and mental clarity, resolve insomnia and correct digestive disorders. It can also help shift workers adjust to changes in schedules or days off and help the body bounce back more quickly.

One of the ways acupuncture may be particularly helpful for shift workers is the way in which it helps to normalize and regulate the body’s functions.

Research has shown that acupuncture can influence many systems within the body, including our hormones, our neurotransmitters, our immune system, our blood pressure, and our circulation, helping to correct any functions that are out of balance or not working properly. What this means is that acupuncture may help the body to get back into its normal circadian rhythm, and help these rhythms to adjust more quickly to changes in the daily routines.

One of the biggest changes that shift workers notice with acupuncture is a boost in their energy levels.

There is a huge improvement in quality of life that accompanies this change, as a person is more alert both at work and through the daytime, better able to enjoy time off and to be more involved in their family and social life.

Indeed, many people find that with regular treatments, shift work no longer has to take a huge toll on their personal life.

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