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What You Need to Know About Night Shift Jobs

The benefits, the risks, the tips and tricks of the trade.

These are the three main things you need to know about when considering a job on the night shift. As you may already know, working the night shift is rife with financial and career growth opportunities. Studies, however, show that despite the many benefits you can sow from working irregular hours, the night shift work environment and circumstances increase the risk for various medical and mental health conditions.

Essential Night Shift Information

To prepare you for what could be your new life ahead, here are the most important factors to know about night shift jobs:

  • People call the night shift a variety of names, like evening shift to graveyard shift.
  • Employers pay a premium to workers willing to work shift hours or irregular working schedules.
  • Studies show that shift work increases risks for several medical and mental conditions like cancer, heart disease, depression, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Experts, through various studies, recommend maintaining a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risks connected with night shift work.
  • Establishing a well-balanced diet, improving your sleep hygiene, and optimizing your sleeping environment can help your body adjust to your new lifestyle.
  • One of the most important things to do your research and plan ahead. The night shift work environment is drastically different from the day shift as fewer establishments are available.

These are some of the most important information you need to know when planning to move to a career on the night shift. Knowing what the night shift is, how it can help you, its risks, and how to keep yourself healthy are essential knowledge that will prepare you for your new adventure ahead.

Night Shift: Definitions and Qualifications

Generally speaking, the night shift is any irregular work schedule that has employees running operations during the night. The Office of Personnel Management, however, clearly categorized night shift workings according to time of work and payment premiums that the institutions recommend.

According to the OPS, employees who work the majority of their hours during a regularly scheduled non-overtime shift between 3 PM to midnight or 11 PM to 8 AM are entitled to a night differential. The increase in pay is different depending on whether employees work most of their shifts from 3 PM to midnight or 11 PM to 8 AM.

In this case, they qualify the “majority of hours” as a circumstance wherein employees work hours greater than half of their usual eight-hour schedule during the night shift. For example, when a worker works five hours into the 3 PM to midnight categorization, they are entitled to the recommended night shift premium.

Here is a table available on the OPM website exhibiting the night shift categorization and night shift differential recommendation:

Employees working 3 PM to midnight shifts are entitled to a 7.5% night differential. On the other hand, workers whose schedules fall between 11 PM to 8 AM are entitled to a 10% night differential.

How to Qualify for Night Differential?

The OPM defines the night differential as the differential companies pay “for work performed when the majority of a prevailing rate employee’s regularly scheduled non-overtime hours fall between 3 PM and 8 AM.”

Depending on company policies, employers may compute the premiums their workers receive by the percentage of their rate of basic pay.

Simply put, night differentials are a company’s way of persuading workers to man the irregular shifts. As human communities further evolve into 24/7 societies, demand for night shift workers becomes increasingly greater.

Career, Financial, and Economic Opportunities in the Night Shift

The discussion of the night differential is an excellent segue into informing you about the many ways the night shift can improve your career and personal economy. The financial opportunities in the night shift go far beyond just the night differential.

Career Advancement and Promotion Opportunities

Through practicality, career growth opportunities, and many other aspects unique to the night shift, professionals like you, have a chance to benefit from your nightly endeavors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15 million Americans work evening shifts, night shifts, rotating shifts, or other irregular schedules full-time. With this information in mind, it is safe to say that as a night shift worker, you are not alone.

In fact, many night shift workers believe that the night shift is rife with career opportunities. It is widely believed that the competition during the day is much fiercer than during the night shift. The employees in the worker pool in the regular shifts are typically more experienced and have seniority over many aspiring workers in the night schedule.

Less competition in the night shift can only mean one thing: a wider path up the career ladder. Night shifts are generally less crowded, opening doors for career advancement and promotion opportunities.

Economical Advantages

Working night shifts also comes with various other economic advantages. Going to work during schedules outside the regular 9 AM to 5 PM can mean avoiding the rabble of rush hours and morning traffic.

As parents, working night shifts also means you get to spend time with your children during the day when they’re active and awake. This gives them the option to opt for more affordable ways to care for their children without subscribing to expensive childcare solutions.

With conditions that allow workers to save gas, access more affordable childcare practices, and other cost-saving methods such as refraining from fast food, convenience store, and vending machine snack traps, the night shift provides ample chances for career and financial growth.

Night Shift Risks

Studies conducted by various institutions – like the National Sleep Foundation and other authorities on sleep study – show that there is an undeniable connection between the night shift and increased risks of several medical and mental conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that working at night can impact a person’s circadian rhythms. Working night shift hours, which are supposed to be your regular sleeping hours, may affect several areas of your health, from cardiovascular to metabolic concerns.

Heart-Related Risks

A study that experts – Violanti, Vila, and colleagues – conducted with police officers of Buffalo, New York, found that uniformed personnel who most frequently worked night shifts had a higher occurrence of heart disease. Heart disease, according to the CDC, is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Studies published in the British Medical Journal reveal that working during night shifts increased the chance of suffering a heart attack by 7%. While the experts did not point out what essentially caused these greater risks, they believe sleeping habits and the disruption of the body clock may be the reason.

Research has also discovered that shift workers have a 40% increased risk for ischemic heart disease compared to employees with regular schedules. Separate studies have also revealed that employees who work the night shift are more likely to participate in activities that contribute to health risks, such as smoking, unhealthy eating, and irresponsible drinking.

Mental Health Risks

Several studies suggest that working night shifts can impact your mental health negatively. Experts believe that as your body clock struggles to adjust to your new lifestyle, difficulties you have in sleeping increase the risks of depression and mood disorders as you become more and more sleep deprived. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, 30% of all US workers claim to get only less than six hours of sleep every night on average.

Obesity, Diabetes, and Metabolism-Related Risks

Working night shifts disrupts the body’s production of essential hormones, which may lead to obesity, diabetes, metabolic disorder, and various other unhealthy conditions. Several studies, according to News Medical, reveal that metabolic disturbances are more prevalent in employees who work the night shift. Hormonal disturbances may range from elevated levels of triglycerides, reduced HDL cholesterol, increased fasting glucose, and high blood pressure. Collectively, together with obesity, these disturbances are important risk factors for developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Risks of Certain Cancers

Experts have also linked increased risks and the development of certain types of cancers with working night shifts. The study by Violanti, Vila, and colleagues also pointed out, through the study mentioned earlier, that night work and fatigue contribute to an increased risk of cancer.

A separate study also discovered that women who work at night face a much greater risk of contracting breast cancer compared to women who work during the day. Insufficient exposure to sunlight can also increase the risk of contracting certain types of cancer. Working night shifts can mean less or even insufficient exposure to sunlight.

If the body doesn’t get enough sunlight, people may develop misshapen bones or osteomalacia, and even increase the likelihood of getting breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and many others.

Digestive and Gastrointestinal-Related Risks

In a study that experts published in the National Library of Medicine, research revealed an association between night shift work and gastrointestinal disease. 5% to 15% more employees who work overnight shifts experience digestive troubles after they wake up.

Many of the digestive concerns that night shift workers experience are a result of the misalignment of the processes that the body clock remembers and the times night employees are awake. The processes dependent on body clock alignment are the creation of gastric, bile, and pancreatic fluids, the movement of the intestines, enzyme activity, rate of feed absorption in the intestine, and the release of hunger-associated hormones.

Coffee, which is often the beverage of choice for workers who want to stay awake, may also cause an upset stomach and gastrointestinal concern for late-night workers when consumed irresponsibly.

Risks: In Hindsight

Surely, there are many financial, career, and economic benefits to working the night shift. However, it is still important to remember that working at night also comes with its share of risks. Fortunately, technology and modern medicine have evolved to a point where they can maintain and supplement a healthy lifestyle for professionals working during the night. But of course, maintaining a routine founded on wellness will demand commitment and effort. Adjusting to a healthy life on the night shift is not easy, but with determination and discipline, you will be able to enjoy the benefits of working irregular schedules without anything to fear.

How Do I Stay Healthy Working Night Shift?

Human beings are not nocturnal creatures, so they work and actively function in the morning but rest and recover at night. The night shift affects the body at a biological level. As graveyard shifts need workers to be awake and alert at night, employees act against their natural programming as diurnal beings. Activities that go against a person’s diurnal instincts disrupt the body clock and, along with it, the body’s natural rhythms.

Experts have recorded several medical and mental conditions associated with the night shift. So to help the employees braving graveyard shifts, there are measures workers can follow to ensure they’re healthy and comfortable as they adjust to changes they experience.

Sleep Well

Most night shift-related medical and mental conditions are avoidable. In many cases, sleeping and eating healthily can improve overall wellness and help your body acclimate to its new environment.

Healthy sleep hygiene isn’t just getting enough hours of sleep. Sleep quality is an important aspect of recovery as well, so consider adapting practices that improve overall sleep hygiene. The CDC, to help people who need better sleep, released a set of practices that can help the quality of sleep.

Eat Healthily

Experts say that the food you should be eating and avoiding for night shifts shouldn’t be too different from what people regularly consume and steer clear of. The main difference is the timing and scheduling of each meal. Studies reveal that eating small but frequent portions improves overall wellness.

Steer away from sugary and oily foods and avoid food from delivery, fast food, convenience store, and vending machine options, as most processed food are generally less nutritious. If your schedule permits, cook the food and bring it to work as a packed lunch, as healthy food establishment choices are unavailable at night.

Here are some of the recommendations the CDC published on their website for improving sleep hygiene:

  • Go to bed consistently at the same time every day – even during weekends.
  • Make your bedroom as quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature as much as you can.
  • Remove distractions and disruptions like electronic devices, TVs, computers, and smartphones, from reach to avoid staying up late.
  • Try not to eat large meals, drink caffeine, and consume alcoholic beverages before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly. Undergoing physical activity during the day can help you drift to sleep more easily.

Optimizing Sleep Environment

The sleep environment plays an important role in improving sleep quality. Needless to say, it’s important to purchase comfortable cushions, pillows, and breathable sheets to maximize comfort. Consider buying black-out curtains, as the body rests better in darker environments. Invest in things that make you as comfortable as you can to improve sleep length and quality.


The night shifts will inevitably have their share of pros and cons. But with proper preparation and ample research about what lies ahead, you can prepare your mind and body for the rigors of the night shift. By eating healthy, sleeping well, and planning ahead, you can fully enjoy your new life as a nocturnal employee.

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