ACT News


More Australians are working night shifts, so how do they manage?

National employment figures show a growing number of Australians are doing regular graveyard and evening shifts - working when most of us are tucked up in bed snoozing.

In 2012 there were  about 1.5 million people working some kind of shift-work as part of their main occupation and this grew to 1.7 million by 2015.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 204,000 Australians regularly worked night and evening shifts that year.

Canberra Hospital's lead physician in sleep medicine, Dr Carol Huang, said there was no doubt from medical literature that shift work was detrimental to people's health. 

"Shift workers are much more likely to be tired, both on and off the job, and that has some potential risks associated with it," she said. 

Research published in the British Medical Journal shows a link between shift work and occupational accidents and injuries, type 2 diabetes, weight gain, coronary heart disease, depression, stroke and cancer. 


Dr Huang said in an ideal world night shift workers would sleep right up until their shift started and reduce their exposure to light as they returned home to rest again. 

While that's not always feasible she said there were steps to take to minimise the toll it took on your body.

"People need to allow enough time for sleep," she said. "Getting up and going to bed at the same time is helpful, a constant shift pattern is helpful." 

She urged people to improve their sleep environment by controlling for noise, temperature and distractions.

Watching what you eat was also vital.

"We know that people who have shorter sleep duration tend to consume more calories and that may be one of those reasons why these people are more prone to weight gain and obesity," she said.

ACT Health offer psychology of sleep workshops to all employees and touch on topics such as improving sleep, managing fatigue or insomnia and sleep health for shift work.

A directorate spokeswoman said staff rostered on night shift were given prior notice to adequately prepare. 

"The amount of notice given for night shifts, and the length of breaks required between the completion of a night shift and the start of a morning shift, is stipulated by the each profession's industrial agreement," she said.

"On night shifts clinicians are entitled to meal and rest breaks, and are encouraged to eat food that will sustain their energy and actively stay hydrated to minimise fatigue."

In 2014 a Safe2Sleep program was launched at Canberra Hospital to minimise sleep disturbance for patients. 

The hospital now provides free ear buds, eye masks, encourages patients to reduce screen time and assists in closing the curtains to reduce external light sources.

Devices called 'Yacker Trackers' are distributed on the wards to monitor overall noise level and alerts staff to be quieter if noise level has surpassed a set threshold.