An erratic sleep schedule can bring a host of problems, including dangerous fatigue levels. Erratic sleep can even disrupt how your genes work. If your employees don’t work a regular daytime schedule, they may be at risk for these problems. As an employer, you can create policies that minimize the debilitating effects of changing sleep habits. Making these changes will help your employees and also improve morale and productivity.

The Dangers of an Erratic Sleep Schedule

When employees don’t adjust well to a shift change, the accompanying loss of sleep can cause numerous problems:

  • Gene disruption: A recent sleep study published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that a 28-hour day can severely disrupt 97 percent of genes related to a person’s inner circadian clock. These genes regulate a host of systems, including immune responses.
  • Heart attacks and strokes: Changing your sleep cycle can increase the risk that you’ll suffer a stroke or heart attack by at least 40 percent, according to The Telegraph.
  • Breast cancer: Women are twice as likely to develop breast cancer if they work night shifts at least three times a week for six years, according to a study featured in The Telegraph.
  • Accidents: Sleep deprivation can put an employee at greater risk of having an accident, both at work and even while driving. In fact, night shift workers are twice as likely to be injured on the job, as detailed by a study discussed at ScienceDaily.

How to Help Shift Workers

With so many risks associated with erratic sleep schedules, there are a number of policies that employers can put into place to help shift workers be healthier.

  1. Take employee preferences into account. As The Telegraph notes, health risks may be less for self-professed night owls who work night shifts, so consider employees’ preferences when scheduling.
  2. Minimize the night shift. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a rotating night shift rather than a permanent one. If this isn’t possible, try to keep night shifts down to two to four nights in a row.
  3. Don’t implement quick shift changes. When you have to implement shift changes, do so slowly. Try to give 24 to 48 hours notice before switching an employee to a different shift so he has time to adjust.
  4. Increase staffing. A big contributor to shift-related work issues is requiring overtime due to absences and vacations. Adding head count can help guard against these problems. Although hiring more staff is an investment, you may also save money through fewer accidents and health care claims in the long run.
  5. Change your work environment to increase alertness. Because shift workers are at higher risk of accidents, you can combat this by changing the work environment. Schedule more breaks into long shifts and night shifts. Try to schedule the work that requires more concentration during the day. Keeping the workplace brightly lit and keeping the temperature at the lower end of where employees are comfortable can also promote alertness.

The key to improving the health of your shift workers is research. The aforementioned examples are just a few policies that you can implement to improve health and morale. Consider appointing an employee to research additional methods that can keep a shift workplace safe and productive.

Stephanie Dwilson has extensive experience providing expertise on topics including health, law and marketing. She’s a science journalist published by Fox News, a marketing expert and an attorney with expertise in personal injury law. She’s also a small business expert featured by Businessweek and Millionaire Blueprints magazine and has worked as a marketing consultant for ministries and as a PR lead for one of the largest churches in America.