Defeating Sleep Deprivation: How to Cope with Night Shifts

The boom of the call center and business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in developing countries around the world has given birth to a new breed of night owls. These people aren’t partying all night—they’re working hard and earning their keep. Due to the classic case of them working at night to serve their market (mostly Westerners living at the other side of the globe), these shift workers have to contend with a lot of health issues, with sleep deprivation at the forefront.

According to Health24, a health and lifestyle website based in South Africa, call center jobs are one of the most taxing jobs in the world, and that 20% of their personnel have difficulties in dealing with the stress they absorb at work. Sleep deprivation is considered one of the major factors affecting agents to suffer from erratic moods, mental inefficiency, and a number of serious health risks.

While this is not the case for all agents, many of those who work at night tend to suffer not just from sleep deprivation but also the anxiety it comes with. Since our bodies are accustomed to sleeping at night, adjusting to a reversed pattern can bring about stress. This same stress makes them vulnerable to the pressures of coping with their working environment. Stress can also dull their focus which can lead to poor performance or worse, weaken their immunity against illnesses. 

Sleep Humor on Bread

The Graveyard Shift Disadvantage

Here are some of the most common drawbacks of working the call center night shift.

  • Having to sit all day.  This is especially applicable if you’re a call center newbie and your body is still adjusting to the reality that you have to work while everybody else is calling it a day. While you may be up and about at the beginning of your shift, it becomes harder to stay alert as the night progresses.After an hour or two, the job becomes mechanical; and with the air-conditioner in full blast, your body suddenly remembers that it’s the perfect time to be sleepy. But since you’re paid to stay awake, you look for ways to sit as comfortably as you can in your chair. The problem is, not all cozy sitting positions are good for your spine.
  • Excessive caffeine intake.  If you’re a fan of coffee even before you became an agent, you’ll probably think that working at a call center is tantamount to being in paradise. Many of these companies provide their employees unlimited supply of coffee to make sure they stay up during their shift. Also, the presence of coffee shops nearby only makes it harder for you to resist the temptation.
  • Exposure to vices. Another setback of working at a call center is that you get exposed to colleagues who have vices. There is the routine smoking-every-coffee-break and the drinking-every-once-in-a-while after the shift. Apparently, they think they can stay awake longer by indulging themselves, when the truth is, they’re just putting their lungs and liver at a greater risk. So, if you’re thinking of quitting, you have to muster determination in great amounts since it’s likely that your smoker workmates will tag you along.
  • Decreased libido.  Believe it or not, lack of sleep can harm your interest in sex. Those who have been deprived of sleep on a regular basis revealed that their libidos decreased and this can be accounted to the exhaustion from working at a time when the body is supposed to be recuperating.
  • Erratic schedules. Call centers that operate 24/7 tend to make their employees take different shifts. This can make your sleeping patterns more erratic than it already is when you’re already working the night stint. This is because your body adjusts to every change that you undergo which includes the time you sleep.

Adverse Effects

Where there are setbacks, there are also the hostile consequences.

  • Bad posture.  Sure, being a call center agent means attending to customer queries, entailing you to sit all night at your workstation. Sometimes, you only remember to stand when you need to go to the bathroom or when it’s finally your break time. Sitting all day ruins your posture and may be dangerous to your spine.
  • Low mental agility.  Lack of sleep can dull your cognitive skills especially when all you can think of is dozing off. And when your focus is half-baked, it’ll be harder for you to soak up what you should be learning at work, much less to implement them. It also affects the memory so remembering things can be compromised.
  • Serious health problems.  Aside from bad posture, sleep deprivation can also trigger a lot of grave illnesses and body injuries. Among the most common ailments suffered by call center agents are insomnia, carpal tunnel syndrome, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.
  • Depression.Irregular sleeping habits can also lead you to becoming depressed. Since you’ll be dealing with a lot of customers—many of them unsatisfied, complaining, and simply rude—you can become more vulnerable to criticism even if their problem has nothing to do with you personally.
  • Substance-dependency.  Many call center agents try a lot of things that they think can help them remain functional at work. Some do not stop at smoking and energy drink—there are those who go as far as taking drugs, prescribed or otherwise. If you become exposed to these things, you might find it a little tough to say “no” when invited.

Battling the Ill Effects of the Night Shift

If you want to keep yourself healthy despite your unorthodox working schedule, here are some things you should do.

  • Quit bad habits altogether.  It will be hard—awkward even—at first, but if you want to stay healthy while ironically working a job that tells you not to, stay away from everything else that weakens your well-being. Instead, hook yourself to food, drinks, and activities that are good for your health.
  • Sleep.  You’re not expected to work for 24 hours which means you have the time to sleep. So instead of going out with co-workers after shift, go straight home and get as much sleep as you can. You have to give your body time to recuperate from all the stress of working ‘til the wee hours of the morning.
  • Eat right.  Sleep deprivation can damage your immune system a lot so you need to strengthen yourself by eating healthful food. Avoid eating fast-food as much as possible, and eat those which are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Also, try to lessen your coffee intake and switch to fruits every once in a while. The vitamin C in fruits can also help you stay awake; the effect may not be as quick as coffee’s but fruits are surely nutritious.
  • Pick up an exercise routine.  There are night-shift workers who don’t feel sleepy right away even if their workday is over. If you’re one of them, spend your up-and-about hours exercising. If your workplace is blessed to have a gym, set a regular schedule where you can work out. You can also jog around the neighborhood with your friends if you prefer.
  • Stay hydrated.  Drinking water regularly not only keeps you refreshed and properly hydrated but it also gives you a reason to stand up when you need to use the facilities. Also, it prevents you from having urinary tract-related diseases, which is also prevalent among employees who need to sit most of their working hours.

As they say, prevention is better than cure. So now that you are aware of the disadvantages of working at night and how to counter them, there’s no excuse for you to put yourself in the line of sickness.


I'm a Painter, Musician, Blogger and a Registered Nurse from the Philippines.

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