Is the graveyard shift really a health risk?


I just started working the 7pm to 7 am shift in a local hospital, and I'm concerned about possible health risks paired with this schedule. Articles exist out there stating that a link exists between breast cancer in women and this night schedule. Since both of my parents lost their lives to this disease, I am apprehensive to say the least. Does anyone have information or life experiences to share about the dangers of messing with the human biological clock? Thanks!

rn/writer, RN

17 Articles; 4,168 Posts

As a long-time night-shifter (dh is, too), I have always read the gloom-and-doom articles with concern. Then, in the last several years, I started running across new information that cheered me up.

Night shift can be a challenge, but the ones who really suffer are swing shifters who can't ever adapt to just one schedule. Working a steady night shift is easier on your system than bouncing around.

The second bit of news is even better, at least for me. The ones who had the most trouble, and the most physical problems, were the folks who worked nights against their will. The ones who worked nights by preference or who could make the choice voluntarily did better.

I wish I could recall specific articles, but they're just not coming back to me. I do remember reading this in more than one place.

The bottom line is that making peace with working nights seems to be paramount in reducing the extra stress that can lead to other problems. If you resent having to work nights or continually short-change yourself on sleep and other physical needs, cortisol levels can go up and that wreaks all kinds of havoc.

I prefer nights, and so does dh. We feel like we live in a parallel universe that isn't nearly as crowded or intense as the regular one. We go out for lunch and an afternoon movie on our off-days. We drive opposite the busy traffic. We shop when there are few people in the stores. When we have to do things during the "normal" hours we remember why we like our schedule better.

Bottom line: it may not be the hours so much as the attitude that makes night shift a health hazard for some.

Daytonite, BSN, RN

4 Articles; 14,603 Posts

Specializes in med/surg, telemetry, IV therapy, mgmt. Has 40 years experience.

i worked the night shift for years. loved it. i have had cancer 3 times in my life starting when i was 24. i wasn't working nights then. 2 were head and neck cancers and the last one was colon cancer found by yearly guaiac screening. had it not been found, i would be dead today because it was an aggressive colon cancer and i am lucky that my internist screens for everything he can. i have been getting mammograms every year for years. my mother died of beast cancer which is a bigger reason for me to get screened than having worked night shift. if someone in your family has gotten breast cancer that is a bigger reason to get tested for it regularly. find a doctor who will order mammograms. get insurance that will cover the test. you have to be your own advocate if you do not have a doctor who is.

my mother had a questionable mammogram and instead of returning the next year for a follow-up (i still don't know how that happened because she wasn't living with me at the time) she let it go--for a number of years. by the time she was tested again (she was living with me), they found 3 tumors and biopsied her immediately that same day as the mammograms. i cried all day because i knew the outlook was not going to be good and i wanted to wring her neck for ignoring the questionable mammograms years before. she was a lpn and walked around for years saying she was going to live to be 100. she might have made it too because she had no other major diseases.

Purple_Scrubs, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 1,978 Posts

Specializes in School Nursing. Has 8 years experience.

For me personally, night shift was detrimental to my health. My blood pressure shot up to 160's over 90-110's while working this shift. My PCP put me on a small dose of lisinopril and in the meantime I quit the job. Within a few weeks I started having dizzy spells and when I checked my BP I was 90's over 60's! Obviously my PCP dc'd the lisinopril, and now I am 110-120/80's regularly. I attribute it 100% to the stress of that job, much of which was due to it being night shift (although there were other issues also).

tntrn, ASN, RN

1,340 Posts

Specializes in L & D; Postpartum. Has 34 years experience.

I think it's an individual thing: I worked 11-7 for a short time and it was very bad for my heatlh. At one point I got what I thought was just a cold, and before it was all said and done, I had pneumonia, a cracked rib from coughing, and a very long road to feeling well. At that point, my DH, bless him, said we don't need that little bit of extra money (night differential) that bad. And I went back to evenings.

Proper rest is a big deal for me. And that's why I also have not and will not ever work 12 hour shifts. There are not enough hours in a day for me to get my 8 hours of rest.

rn/writer, RN

17 Articles; 4,168 Posts

It most definitely is an individual thing. The stress levels and health problems a couple of you describe from working nights is what I would get from having to live on a day shift schedule.

It's a good thing our bio-rhythms are different. Somebody's gotta work nights. :D


1,465 Posts

I ditto that it's an individual thing. If you like nights and can sleep during the day, I don't see it as a health threat.

Many things that did not come out the studies, that I noticed:

Were the people they studied....

on nights because they wanted to be or were they forced to be?

on straight nights or did they rotate back and forth?

sleeping during the day or were they using nights as a way to get more time to do "stuff"?

adjusting well physically?

If you are on nights and don't want to be, that stress is going to hurt you. If you rotate back and forth your body cannot adjust as well. It took me a good 3-5 months to really adjust. If you are not sleeping during the day, but instead trying to squeeze more time out of each day, your body is going to pay. If you just can't adjust physically, then you are not going to feel good no matter what.

For me, nights are wonderful. I sleep better during the day and I don't have as much depression issues as I did on days. I find you either love nights or you hate them. I think that really is what determines if nights is healthy or not. :)

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