NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Chronic Disorders

If you have a chronic health problem, you may have more difficulty controlling symptoms and disease progression when on shift work or long work hours.12

Some illnesses have a circadian rhythm component, and as a consequence, shift work can exacerbate their symptoms. These include rheumatoid arthritisa, asthmab, cancerc, hypertensiond and other cardiovascular diseasese, and gastrointestinal disordersf. Working during the “wrong time of the day” (for example at night) may make your medication less effective for controlling your condition.

  • When working shift schedules or when sleep deprived, nurses with sleep disorders may experience more symptoms such as excessive daytime sleepiness, apnea episodes, restless legs, and related symptoms.13
  • In addition, researchers warn that workers with insulin-dependent diabetes, seizure disorders, psychiatric diseases, and alcohol/drug abuse could have more difficulties when working shift schedules.12
  • Long work hours are linked to musculoskeletal disorders possibly because of longer exposure to physical demands and reduced recovery time.14

aThis condition is usually most painful in the morning, in contrast to osteoarthritis, which gets more painful throughout the day.

bLung function is usually worse during the night, when cortisol levels are low and histamine level is elevated, and this is when exacerbations of breathing often occur.

cCorrect timing of antineoplastic agent dosing can influence susceptibility of cancer cells to the drug, while reducing the toxic effects on normal tissue.

dBlood pressure is usually highest from 6 a.m. to early afternoon and is lowest at night; thus, timing of medication to follow this rhythm can be beneficial.

eHeart attacks are most common in the morning, right after waking.

fGI disorders are exacerbated by disturbances to circadian rhythms and poor sleep.

Module: 4, Page 5 of 10
Page last reviewed: March 31, 2020