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The impact of shift work on psychological and physical health

Shift work is common over a variety of industries. Concern has been raised as to the health impacts both physiologically and psychologically associated with the regular altered routines of shift workers.

Recently, a syndrome called “shift work disorder” has been identified and can be classified with the presence of alteration of circadian rhythm of sleep/wake, insomnia, excessive day sleepiness, and fatigue. 

Ferri et al (2016) indicates that in particular, night shift can cause significant alterations of sleep and biological functions that can affect physical and psychological well-being as well as performance. An attempt to identify if shift work including nights, is associated with risk factors predisposing workers to poorer health conditions was compared to day work only.

The study sites that night shift work induces sleep deprivation which, in turn, alters the daily levels of alertness and job performance, favouring fatigue. The symptoms of fatigue, including “sleepiness and lack of energy,” “impaired concentration,” and “feelings of discomfort,” were more severe in those working night shifts than those who worked during the day. Fatigue related to night shifts can increase the risk of human errors and injuries and can negatively affect the quality of work.

Data indicates that shift work has a negative impact on psychological health. Health professionals who worked night shifts showed more psychological and mental health problems than day workers: irritability, somatisation, obsessive–compulsive disorder, interpersonal sensitivity, anxiety, altered mood, and paranoid disorders were significantly higher.

The study suggests that rotating night shift correlates with a higher risk for both job dissatisfaction and undesirable health effects. Reduced job satisfaction was associated with more frequent physical and psychological symptoms related to stress, suggesting a clear correlation between these two conditions.

Workplace Physiotherapy present provide training programs to organisations to assist identification of risks associated with shift work and development of strategies to assist with mitigation of the risks.


Ref: Paola Ferri, Matteo Guadi, Luigi Marcheselli, Sara Balduzzi, Daniela Magnani, Rosaria Di Lorenzo The impact of shift work on the psychological and physical health of nurses in a general hospital: a comparison between rotating night shifts and day shiftsRisk Management and Healthcare Policy 2016:9


The comments above are the implicit advice of Workplace Physiotherapy. The views expressed are based on current evidence-based research and accepted best practice approaches. Unless otherwise stated, these comments are not the view of SIRA NSW or any other professional body. No reproduction or forwarding of this advice is permitted without the consent of the author.