The graveyard shift is not the one anyone wants to be working. A social life is hard, it may put a strain on your relationship if your partner works an opposite schedule, and you may not get to see your kids as much. But the graveyard shift can also take a major toll on your body as well.
If you’ve been on the graveyard shift long, you’ve probably started to notice some of these effects already. If not, you’ll start seeing them soon. Read on to learn about what the graveyard shift does to your body and what you can do about it.
You Pee All the Time
If you work the night shift, you may have noticed you have some issues with your urinary tract. You might pee all the time or have to get up from sleeping to use the restroom. You may also find that you stop and start or finish and feel like you still have to go.
Urinary tract problems are common among shift workers, partly because of the sleep deprivation these jobs come with. Doctors believe this may be related to the fact that you don’t have the same drop in blood pressure that you do on nights when you get a full eight hours of sleep. It may also have to do with the way your sodium regulating hormones change with sleep deprivation.
You’re Always Tired
You may not think anything of being tired all the time if you work the night shift. After all, you’re up all night, and you probably don’t sleep much during the day. Of course you’re sleeping most of the time.
But the effects of long-term sleep deprivation are nothing to blow off. They can raise your risk of a number of serious conditions, not least of which are mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Not to mention if you’re tired all the time, you probably aren’t getting the most enjoyment out of your life.
You Feel Weak
You may notice that once you started working the night shift you feel weaker all the time. You might have trouble picking up your kids or opening things in the kitchen. If you work a manual labor job, you may notice you can’t perform that as easily as you once could.
Sleep deprivation is associated with muscle weakness. It increases insulin resistance and lowers your body’s stores of glycogen, a form of energy storage from carbohydrates. These are your two main sources of muscle strength, so the longer you spend on an irregular sleep schedule, the worse it can get.
You Have Less Endurance
You may also find that you get worn out more quickly when you’re working the graveyard shift. This is different than being sleepy or feeling like you aren’t as strong anymore. You may find that you can’t do things like climb stairs or move heavy objects for as long before you wear out.
Part of the reason behind this is that lower supply of glycogen that we mentioned earlier. But when you’re sleep-deprived, you also aren’t getting as much REM sleep, the phase where your body does most of its rejuvenation. You may have higher levels of stress hormones that you’re fighting against, and you’re drawing on depleted stores to begin with.
Your Sex Drive Is Off
A low libido is another effect of shift work that you may dismiss out of hand. You’re tired all the time, your partner may be on an opposite schedule, and the timing may just not be right. But a low libido, like constant drowsiness, is a problem to take seriously.
A change in libido can be a warning sign for a number of serious health conditions. And it’s extremely common in people who work the night shift, We’ll talk about the reasons behind this in a moment, but it’s important to know that a low libido can negatively impact your relationship.
You Have Trouble with Erections
You may find that when you’re working the graveyard shift, even when you are in the mood for sex, you have trouble with erections. You may not be able to get an erection at all, or you may only get partially hard. You may also have trouble keeping an erection long enough to have penetrative sex, even if you’re interested and into your partner.
There are several reasons a lack of good sleep is associated with erectile dysfunction. Among other things, doctors believe sleep deprivation may reduce your blood vessels’ ability to control blood flow to your penis. The high stress levels that come with the graveyard shift also don’t help with maintaining a healthy erection.
You Have Fertility Problems
Working the night shift may affect your ability to have children for more reasons than libido or erectile dysfunction. In one study that looked at sperm density and motility among people who worked a variety of schedules, researchers found that people who work the night shift had the lowest density and motility. This basically means you don’t have a lot of sperm and the ones you do have aren’t getting very far.
Although some of this may be due to stress and improper circadian rhythms (which we’ll discuss more in a moment), a lot of it comes back to that sleep deprivation we’ve been talking about. Sleep deprivation causes higher levels of anti-sperm antibody, which lowers sperm levels. Some studies have shown that people who don’t get the right amount of sleep are 42 percent less likely to get a partner pregnant than those who have healthy sleep schedules.
All This Equals Low Testosterone
There is one missing lynchpin that we haven’t talked about yet with all of this: low testosterone. When you aren’t keeping a proper sleep schedule, your testosterone levels drop. There are several reasons for this, most of which relate to sleep deprivation.
Sleep is the time when your body does all its internal housekeeping, including producing hormones like testosterone. So if you aren’t sleeping enough, your body doesn’t have time to produce all the testosterone it usually does. And guess what the symptoms of low testosterone levels are: fatigue, low endurance, low libido, erectile dysfunction, and fertility problems, to name a few.
Testosterone is the hormone that tells your body to show off your secondary sex characteristics, things like lots of face and body hair and stronger muscles. It’s also vital in producing sperm, so when your testosterone levels are down, so are your sperm counts.
You may also notice that you’ve put on weight or hade swelling and tenderness in your chest. You may get hot flashes or notice that you’re losing hair. These are all connected to low testosterone levels.
Your Circadian Rhythms
Although low testosterone is a big part of the symptoms you’re experiencing (and though the two are tied together), another reason shift work is so terrible for your body is that it throws off your circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythms are essentially your body’s internal clock. They tell your body when it’s time to wake up and go to sleep and do almost all the other functions your body does.
Your circadian rhythms rely heavily on different light qualities to figure out when to start sending out certain hormones to signal your body to wake up or go to sleep. So if you’ve ever heard that you should avoid blue light before bed, that’s why. Blue light tends to happen more naturally around sunrise, so it cues your body that it’s time to wake up, while the red-orange of sunset and dusk light tells your body it’s time to go to sleep.
When you’re working the graveyard shift, you’re fighting against every one of your body’s circadian rhythms. You’re trying to go to sleep when the sky is blue and wake up when it’s red. And even if you keep heavy curtains in your room, you still get these light cues when you go outside.
Because your body takes these light hues as signals to release certain hormones and you’re fighting against that, you aren’t releasing the right hormones at the right times. This leads to sleep deprivation, for one thing, since you’re forcing your body into an unnatural sleep. But circadian rhythm disturbances are also linked to a wide variety of problems, including the ones we’ve mentioned here.
How to Improve Your Sleep
So as you may have guessed by now, step one of reducing all the problems we’ve just talked about is to make sure you get better sleep. If you’re working the graveyard shift, this is going to be hard, since you’re still fighting those circadian rhythms. But there are some measures you can take.
For one thing, make sure you’re diligent about practicing sleep hygiene. This means the bed is only for sleeping and sex – no reading, watching TV, checking social media, or working in bed. Train your body to know that when you’re in bed, it’s time to go to sleep.
Try to remove the bad light cues you’re getting on the way home from work as much as possible. Wear darkly tinted sunglasses on the way home, and make sure you get good blackout curtains to keep that blue daylight out of your room. You also need to avoid caffeine as much as possible before you get home so you can fall straight asleep.
As much as possible, try to keep a regular sleep schedule, even if it is flipped. You can’t completely retrain your circadian rhythms, but making sure your schedule is as consistent as possible will help your body take the hint that it’s time to sleep. Ask friends and family not to call during certain hours, and set your phone on do not disturb so only your emergency contacts can reach you if needed.
How to Raise Your Testosterone Levels
Another way to manage the symptoms you get working the graveyard shift is to treat that testosterone deficiency we discussed earlier. To some degree, if you can improve your sleep, your testosterone levels should rebound. But there are some other steps you can take to rebound as well.
Try to maintain a healthy weight as much as possible. When you get up, hit the gym before you go to work; not only will this help you keep the pounds off, it’ll also make you more alert for your shift and give you more energy to combat the fatigue. Something as simple as walking for half an hour every day can raise your body’s testosterone levels and give you more energy.
The other part of keeping a healthy weight is eating a good diet. It can be easy when you’re working the graveyard shift to grab whatever food is most convenient. But find some quick, healthy meals that you can prepare at home that will give you the nutrients you need.
In addition to taking care of your body, you also need to be sure to take care of your mind. We mentioned stress levels several times, and they do impact every aspect of your health. Find something that relaxes you, whether that be going to the gym, hanging out with friends, doing some simple self-care, or working on a hobby.
Cope with the Effects of the Graveyard Shift
When you’re working the graveyard shift, you’re under a lot of stress and not getting enough sleep. After long enough, that starts to show on a body. Take care of yourself, both in body and in mind, and make sure you get enough sleep as possible, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
If you’d like help dealing with low testosterone and its effects, check out the rest of our site at Mantality. We specialize in treating low testosterone and helping you get back to where you were before with your body. Contact us today to get started on testosterone replacement therapy and start getting your body back.