There are only a few careers that require a person to work at all hours, whether it be day or night. One obvious one are nurses – most nurses have done their fair share of night duty.
In a field that is mostly dominated by a female work force, it may not come as a surprise women are better at coping with the “graveyard” shift than men.
A new research has found that men who work night duty are twice as likely to feel fatigued than men who work the same job during daylight hours.
However, this was not seen among women, where their stress levels remained the same regardless of when they worked.
Some experts suggested that this might be the case because women are more supportive of one another at work.
The University at Buffalo study looked at the stress levels of male and female police officers.
Professor John Violanti, who led the research, said “female officers appear to use more effective types of coping with the stress and fatigue of shift work.”
For police officers, the later shifts go from 4pm to 2am and are extremely busy for any number of reasons: rush hour jams, accidents, domestic disputes, assaults and murders.
The same applies to nurses too – night shifts, despite the misconception of being quieter, are not any easier than day ones as people need care and medical attention around the clock.
For women, it is believed that oestrogen, the female hormone, protects the brain from the negative effects of stress.
Working too many night shifts or strenuous hours can put the body at risk of developing certain conditions, as well as increasing the risk of injury and the likelihood of making mistakes on the job.
Before working on the research, Professor Violanti was a police officer with New York State Police for more than two decades.
“Officers who work the afternoon shift are more likely to be fatigued, which puts them at greater risk for accidents, errors and stress.”
The research included an analysis of occupational related data, based on shiftwork and fatigue, of 308 members of the Buffalo Police Department. Of that group, only 78 were women.
That analysis also included a 15 year work history database that had the daily account of start times and hours worked for the participating officers.
Researchers then measured fatigue with a survey asking them how often they felt tired. More than a third responded on the more frequent side of the scale.
“Our inquiry was based on fatigue at work only focusing on fatigue involving physical, mental and emotional tiredness.”
Professor Violanti admitted that his research did not explore all the potential reasons for the exhaustion, “it may be possible other factors are involved in fatigue at work due to lack of proper sleep and increased activities and responsibilities outside of work.”
However, the research does suggest the need for sleep intervention, including education staff on “sleep hygiene”, possible use of caffeine, controlled napping and light therapy.
Another suggestion was avoiding caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime as it can disrupt sleep.
“Sleep hygiene” practices involves limiting naps to less than 30 minutes. Though is napping does not make up for inadequate sleep, a short nap can still improve mood, alertness and performance.