Every human lives by what scientists call a circadian rhythm, or a 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Your circadian rhythm controls the release of the hormone melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy. Your circadian rhythm is not set in stone, and can be affected by light changes and your environment. Incidentally, people who work night shifts or swing shifts often struggle with their circadian rhythms, and cannot get on a steady cycle. Also, our bodies are naturally drowsy in the dark and alert in the light. This means that even when night-shift workers get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep during the day, they will still feel drowsy at work due to the darkness outside.
So how can disturbing your circadian rhythm adversely affect you at work?
Disrupting your circadian rhythm can mean that people are working while drowsy, and working like this can lead to sloppy work and otherwise avoidable mistakes. When your natural sleep rhythm is in conflict with a work schedule, you’re more at risk for interrupted sleep and general drowsiness when you are forcing your body to be awake. In some industries, this puts workers at risk of personal injury.
Reduced alertness brought on by sleepiness makes people more prone to accidents. Consider factory and construction workers who deal with heavy machinery and dangerous equipment. Working under those conditions while drowsy dramatically increases the risk of injury. But in addition to the risks drowsy workers face, they also have to contend with lower productivity levels. Sleepy workers simply get less done than alert workers, which is something that both employees and employers must account for.
If your work schedule is at odds with your natural circadian rhythm, it is important for you to be aware of your own limitations. Prioritizing uninterrupted sleep is vitally important, but if you are going to work at night you still may feel drowsy despite how much sleep you get. Be aware of how interrupting a circadian rhythm affects you. Keep yourself safe in the workplace by taking extra care when performing dangerous duties while drowsy.