It’s well known that nightshift work can be harmful to your health. By disrupting the body’s natural circadian rhythm, nightshift work causes unnatural sleep schedules that can have serious effects on physical and mental health as well as on relationships. Among other things, sleep rhythm disruption can cause irritability, decreased energy, depression, and even, according to the World Health Organization, an increase in the growth of cancer cells, giving new meaning to the term ‘graveyard shift.’
There is another danger of nightshift work that hasn’t received so much attention, however. While many are warned of the dangers of such labor, few understand how difficult it can be to break the routine that imprisons so many night-shift employees. Indeed, once informed of the hazards of nighttime work, one may ask them, “Why not look for another job?” The answer to such a question lies, unfortunately, in the addiction-like, habit-forming nature of the work.
Take a look at Mitu, a 43-year-old food cart worker in New York City. Hailing from Bangladesh, Mitu arrived in the United States in 2008 and eventually landed steady work at a Halal cart, operating it from 8 PM to 8 AM, after which he begins an hour-long commute home from Manhattan.
“I am often very tired,” Mitu says. “I can only sleep between maybe 11 AM and 4 or 5 PM, and never all the way through.” Along with affecting his physical life, nightshift work strains Mitu’s relationships as well; many days he is unable to see his wife at all due to their mismatched schedules. Because she works during the morning and evening, she often leaves for her job before Mitu is up and returns home hours after he has left.
Despite his chronic fatigue and taxed relationship, though, Mitu cannot escape from the habits he’s mired himself in. After six years of working night-shift jobs and perpetuating an errant sleep schedule, he actually opposes a move towards working different hours. When asked what shift he would choose to work if he became a taxi driver (such, Mitu revealed, is his goal), he said, “Nighttime – definitely nighttime. Ever since coming to the United States, every job I [have] worked is a nighttime job. It was because I came straight from Bangladesh, and day there is night here. So from the start it was easier to work at night, and today I still do.”
In the city that never sleeps, there are countless late-night workers. Many, like Mitu, have altered their lives to fit work schedules, enduring various hardships to do so. As is the case with many who have destructive habits, the negative effects of working the nightshift haven’t provoked Mitu to seek a way out of it. Perhaps one ought to consider, then, before agreeing to any consistent late-night work, not only the problems that come from it, but also the seeming grip the nightshift has on those who work it.