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Multiple long-term conditions

A good day’s sleep: why sleep is essential to the health of night shift workers

18 March 2022

On World Sleep Day, Nicola reflects on the ways that working night shifts can affect health, and the innovative work our partners are doing to ensure shift workers get the support they need.

Where we work, much like where we live, has an overall impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. At Impact on Urban Health, we explore how we can tackle health inequalities by making our work and workplaces healthier places to be through our multiple long-term conditions programme.

The links between our work and our health are complex. But evidence shows employment can have a positive impact on our wellbeing – though only if the work we are doing is ‘good’ work. Good work is the kind that is fairly rewarded, secure, and takes place in a supportive environment. Good work allows for agency and work-life balance. ‘Bad’ work can affect our mental health and hasten the onset of long-term conditions. For instance, chronic pain and cardiovascular diseases.

On World Sleep Day (March 18), I want to reflect on the ways that working night shifts can affect health, and the innovative work our partners are doing to ensure shift workers get the support they need.

The impact of shift work on health

Working shifts is increasingly common in our society and especially in our cities, where life – and therefore work – takes place 24 hours a day. People who work at night are more likely to have problems with their sleep. And the number of people working nights has grown to over 7million people since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evidence also shows that, like health conditions, sleep and sleep loss are not experienced equally. For example, studies on sleep and the pandemic show that women and people from minoritised communities have been more vulnerable to sleep loss.

The World Health Organisation has classed night shift work as ‘probably carcinogenic’. This highlights the profound effect this type of work can have on our mental and physical health. There is also strong evidence that night shift work can contribute to serious and chronic health conditions. For example; diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

It’s also important to acknowledge that shift work is customary among staff in key frontline industries, including in health care. We are keen to help ensure that all healthcare workers at every level can get the sleep that they need, so that their important work is not impacted by when they work.

I used to do ten till six in the morning. It's very difficult regarding your mental health as much as your physical health as well.

Karim Belkeid Housekeeping Manager, Guy’s Hospital

Supporting shift workers

At Impact on Urban Health, we support partner organisations to develop innovative solutions to improve the sleep of staff working shifts.

We’re working with The Liminal Space to engage shift workers and employers to create a better and healthier working experience. Night Club is a transformational engagement programme run by The Liminal Space. It brings sleep researchers, shift workers, and employers together to create a better and healthier working experience.

By identifying and addressing the root causes of fatigue, Night Club cultivates a healthier, happier, and more engaged workforce, and a culture of trust and peer to peer support amongst staff at all levels

Maddie Wrench Communications Manager at The Liminal Space

The Liminal Space’s approach to supporting shift workers is two-fold. First, they want to equip staff with practical solutions to help them have better quality sleep. And second, they want to encourage employers to recognize the impact of shift work on their employee’s wellbeing.

Oxford University’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute supports Night Club. This ensures all advice and recommendations are based on leading academic research.

I think mindfulness is a really useful exercise because it allows people to be in the present moment, reducing the cortisol that their body might be producing when they’re stressed an anxious, which will then increase the likelihood of them getting a good night’s sleep.

Ronald Dodzro Trainee Clinical Psychologist and Facilitator for Night Club

Our video highlights our work with Liminal Space and Essentia. Essentia design, build, and maintain healthcare infrastructure for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and are vital to the smooth running of healthcare services.

Night Club video (3m)

Find out more about Night Club by visiting their website

Nicola Bristow

Interested in becoming a partner?

Contact Nicola Bristow, Portfolio Manager for our multiple long-term conditions programme

Contact Nicola