SIKESTON - Although the night may summon sleep for most Americans, a growing number of workers are greeting dusk as the start of the day.
In recent years, more companies are running on a 24-hour clock and utilizing shift work among their employees to do so. Unfortunately for the workers, shift work can bring about a number of undesirable effects.
Shift work is defined as any work period after normal daytime hours. This includes evening shifts and the "graveyard" shift, which lasts from approximately 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The vast majority of shift work is utilized in the manufacturing industry, media, service providers and the tourism and entertainment industries.
"There are about 15 million Americans who perform shift work," said Sylvia Webster, crisis therapist at Bootheel Counseling Services. "That means one in six workers is working at night or untraditional hours."
Sikeston, like every other community, is home to a number of businesses that must have employees work nights and weekends. Radio stations, emergency room nurses and police dispatch facilities in the area are all dependent on shift workers.
"It is unfortunate that shift work has to be done in many businesses," said Webster. "The consequences for the worker can be dangerous. It can damage both emotional and physical health."
Studies have shown that people who are involved in shift work are more likely to have family problems, sleep disorders, a lower satisfaction with overall life, a higher amount of stress and suffer from depression, said Webster.
"Physical problems can also arise if the worker is not careful. Many shift workers fall victim to bad eating habits and a lack of exercise, which can lead to digestive problems and heart failure," said Webster.
There are a number of different types of shift work. An employee can work one shift consistently or can alternate shifts, in which a worker spends a certain number of days on each shift.
"The alternating shifts are even worse for the body than consistently working the graveyard shift," said Webster. "It doesn't matter how long an employee works alternating shifts; the body never gets quite adjusted. If a worker is assigned to one shift, he or she can more easily develop a rhythm and encounter fewer negative side-effects associated with shift work."
Tetra Pak Materials Inc. in Sikeston, which utilizes shift work due to the constant need to man the machines, recently quit offering employees the chance to work alternating shifts.
"We have found the permanent shift allows the worker to get some rest and settle into a routine," said Annabelle Merideth, payroll clerk at Tetra Pak.
Although there are not many advantages to night work, the biggest benefit is most likely the premium pay, said Webster.
"People who work the night shift here at Tetra Pak make around 50 cents more per hour than those who work the day shift," explained Merideth.
However, many workers do not feel that the premium pay is enough to compensate for such things like a loss of family time.
"You miss your kids' ball games and concerts, and I sometimes would go a week without even seeing my wife," said one shift worker at the Sikeston Power Plant. "It is one of those things that you don't realize how tough it is until you do it."
The majority of shift workers are young, single men. For many of them, the benefits can outweigh the disadvantages.
Working nights allows many young adults to have time to attend school. The night shift also allows more daylight hours for recreation. With no wife or kids, the extra income alone may be worth the time differences for younger adults, said Webster.
"Obviously, shift work is necessary," continued Webster. "Employees simply need to be aware of the disadvantages and know ways to cope with the time change, because it really does make a difference."