The Negative Health Effects of Shift Work! By Rollo Davies

In 2018 the UK media were highly aroused by Office for National Statistics figures that seemed to indicate that the average life expectancy for a “Security Guard” in the UK, was just 62 years, 25% less than the national average!

The ONS has since debunked this as simple misinterpretation of the available data.


But, that’s the only good news.

There have been many U.S. and U.K. studies on shift work and related health effects. Without further ado, shift work increases the likelihood of the following:

  • Developing Type 2 diabetes. Risk is massively increased if you work rotating days and night shifts!
  • Impairment of basic brain function and premature brain ageing.
  • Increase in all-cause and cardio vascular disease mortality.
  • Increased risk of lung cancer.
  • Doubled risk of breast cancer.
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure.
  • Increased likelihood of obesity.

The associated lack of good quality sleep is also linked to:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Heart disease.
  • Depression.

………. Gulp!…………

So what can we do to help lessen the risk of this long list of health nightmares?

Unhelpfully, the official NHS advice is: “ideally, find another job.”

Thanks for that.

The Health and Safety Executive offers some more useful and practical advice for people working shift work. This includes:

  • take extra care if you drive to and from work as your concentration may be impaired; if possible it may be a better idea to use public transport
  • identify a suitable sleep schedule of at least seven hours a day, you may find it useful to keep a diary to assess what sleep times suit you best
  • try to create an environment that promotes good sleep, for example heavy curtains or an eye mask may help you sleep during the day
  • making changes to your diet to improve both alertness and digestion; smaller healthy snacks during your shift may be a better idea than one big meal
  • limit your use of stimulants such as caffeine or energy drinks as well as sedatives such as alcohol; while they may bring short-term benefit they are unlikely to be of help in the long term
  • try to get regular exercise – at least 30 minutes per day

Other officers swear by techniques such as ‘mindfulness’, as Tony O’Brien talks about in another article in this magazine.

The bottom line was sadly put quite well by a BBC News investigation in Dec 15th 2014: Shift Workers. ‘Sicker and Fatter.’

Thanks a bunch.

I enjoy working nights. That’s when the interesting stuff happens. But I acknowledge that I have suffered health issues and I’m not the slim, excellent physical specimen I was 20 years ago. (You were never an “excellent physical specimen”! Idiot……….. Ed.)

If you can get away from shift work, your health will thank you. For those that can’t, your employers must be made aware of the health risks of shift work and should actively look at ways to reduce those risks.

In the meantime:

  • Be safe.
  • Get regular health checks.
  • Ensure you have good quality


  • Maintain a healthy diet, and tempting as it is, don’t eat directly before going to bed after night shifts.

Rollo Davies

Rollo Davies