Our 24-hour society that wants to meet the demands of industrialization and development has caused the generation of sleep deprived people. Comparing to 1910, when the average citizen slept 9.0 and 7.5 hours a night accordingly in 1975, the data of 2002 shows that these figures have shifted to 6.9 hours a night (2002 “Sleep in America” Poll, p.4); while night shift workers suffer more than others, because they average only five hours a night. Adults from 18 to 65 years old need six to nine hours; therefore, sleep deprivation exhausts and disorders shift workers, leads to fatigue and lack of energy. Drastic increase of sleep deprived workers affects the spheres and environment they are working in, relationships, economy, and social pattern of America, along with other countries.
Each one of us has an internal clock that is set for sleep at night, the period between midnight and dawn is essential for the whole body. In order to function effectively, the frontal cortex of brain relies on rest. The lack of sleep cripples the frontal cortex and makes it ineffective in speech control, memory access and problem solving. Circadian rhythm is a 24-hour biological clock of human body and the adaptation to shift work may lead to chronic illnesses (cardiovascular or gastrointestinal diseases) and poor concentration. Both Paul Roman and Walter Gove agree that anxiety and sleep deprivation are interrelated and lead to psychotic disorganization that is close to mental illness. (Roman, 1972; Gove, 1970). One third of Americans have chronic deprivation that causes sleepiness during the daytime and disorder of everyday life. These adults are likely to have sleep deprivation and its symptoms affect their performance and social life.
Insomnia, exhaustion, irritability, lack of physical energy, fatigue, nightmares, sleep-schedules’ disruption, memory deficit, poor social and occupational performance, impediment in mental ability, emotions and memory are some symptoms of sleeping disorder. In their studies, Shaw et al., stressed on “molecular connection between sleep, plasticity and memory formation [and demonstrated that] the intensity and/or complexity of prior social experience stably modifies sleep need and architecture” (1775). Sleep deprived people are found to use greater amount of sleeping pills than needed. These attempts to control levels of energy and anxiety and to alleviate distress are the reaction of personality from social perspective.
According to 2002 “Sleep in America” Poll, inadequate sleep affects:
– Impaired performance at workplace (93%);
– Risk of injuries (91%);
– Health problems (90%);
– Interpersonal problems (85%);
– Mid-afternoon sleepiness (48%). (p.14)
Shift night workers – airline pilots, doctors, nurses, commercial and truck drivers, police officers, builders, customer services representatives – fall under this risk group of inadequate sleep. Keeping up with the global economy, two jobs to meet ends, better career and child care became the prerequisites for shift work; yet, social status is a core concern that runs all through these issues. The United States, affected by globalization, drastically increased the number of shift workers in the past 20 years. The market competition resulted in new ways out to survive – production increase and 24-hour customer service became available due to millions of American citizens, as shift workers.
However, potential productivity has a number of pitfalls that can hardly be compared to a good performance at a workplace. Shift workers are prone to poor concentration (68 percent in reading and 62 percent in listening), errors (wrong decision-making – 62%), and poor quality of work done (61%). (2002 Poll, p.15). Thus, potential productivity advantages turn out to be losses, except for physical and mental damages. Billion-dollar investments and costs on research and development are absurd as compared with crashes (Exxon Valdez, Space
Shuttle Columbia) aroused by reckless and negligent attitude of shift workers. It should be also noticed that shift workers are employed in emergencies and the safety under acute or chronic sleep deprivation is doubtful. Yet, governmental agencies do not provide data on fatalities (transportation industry) and injuries (emergencies) in work places that were caused by fatigue and sleepiness.
Nevertheless, the data only emphasized problems that occur because of shift workers’ sleep deprivation; still, proposals, concerning night shift work improvement, are few. Basing on the qualitative method, I will focus my research on personal experiences and observation, interviewing and analysis. My core goal is to find out the effects of sleep deprivation on night shift workers from a sociological point of view. Managers ignore the interdependence of workers’ sleep and their productivity; otherwise, they would address their sleep schedules’ policies, invest in training and improve productivity.
The studied group will be night shift workers from the South region that are usually employed from midnight till 8 a.m. According to 2004 BLS data, night shift workers, who compose 3.2 percent of employed Americans, are involved in food preparation (40.4%), transportation, production (26.2%) and emergencies (50.6%). (BLC, 2005). I think the South suites the research, for it is overabundant of night shift workers. My research will be based on focus groups of 200-300 people (the more people we interview, the more precise data we will get). Previous studies have shown that sleep deprived workers regularly disrupt their sleep-wake cycles. I will make research in the sphere of unstable sleeping patterns and their effects on humans as a part of social world.
It was already stated that the number of shift workers’ hours slept averages 5 hours. Therefore, focus groups will be summoned to respond how the lack of sleep affects their:
alertness, attention, reaction, concentration, awareness, decision-making and problem-solving skills, memory, and mood. The results of this research will be as follows: if the focus group fails to perform the tasks properly, makes errors and mistakes, shows disorder, sleepiness or drowsiness, the outcome is clear – at a workplace, shift workers will not be able to follow and take tasks, make right decisions, remember properly, work carefully, pay attention to every part of the process and perform work of a high quality. This part of the research will show that neither socially, not occupationally these shift workers will bring success, profit, or significant impact. Sleepy night shift workers are irritable, intractable, unsociable, tired, stressed, isolated, and unfocused – they are anti-social units at a workplace.
The second part of the research will be based on interviewing. Here are some health issues to be answered: what is the probability of injury, tiredness, insomnia, disorders in breathing and digestive system (obesity), high blood pressure, road accidents, and emotional problems? Dr. Van Cauter has stressed that “accumulated sleep debt is potentially as detrimental to health as poor nutrition or a sedentary lifestyle” (NYT, 1999). People will be also interviewed on medicine they take to stay awake or vice versa and its amount. The drug usage has been waved into American society, but the attempts to control the body should not lead to addiction.
The history of sleep deprivation remembers a case of DJ, who stayed up for 201 hours. During this period, doctors were observing him and “soon he couldn’t recall the alphabet and […] he thought spiders were spinning webs on his shoes” (Whalen, 2000). This incident claims to show that sleep disorders lead to mental problems and that we will not cheat on sleep. No one should state that the lost sleep will be caught up – sooner or later, night shift workers will have to pay the price. In this case, nap time is essential for effective work; nap break may reduce injuries and accidents at workplace that are caused by fatigue.
And, finally, I will research pros and cons of the ‘family’ element. Family, as a tiny part of the society and country as a whole, is, nevertheless, the most essential from a long-term perspective. As long as the family stands, the country will stay alive. Here I will need participant’s observations and notices. I would like to know the time night shift workers spend with their family members, relatives, and, finally, neighbors; whether they are present at family parties, weekends, holidays, along with national ones; whether they are aware of what is going on in the house they live in; what are the family needs, latest news and events. If shift worker can hardly reply to these questions – which part of society he/she belongs to in particular?
Sleep deprivation embodies dangers that are aimed at us and others. As was noted by Simon Williams, “the growing problematization or politics of sleep in a 24/7 risk society where sleep is now becoming a matter of ‘public concern’” (Williams, 2007). Our society should not turn the blind eye towards labor force that provides 24-hour services and production. The United States depend on night shift workers; thus, public and policy makers must be alarmed of extended hours and find the ways to ease the night shifts. Who will replace this generation of night shift workers, if kids look at their exhausted moms and dads after night shifts and see ‘the other side of the Moon’?
The media avoids discussions on sleep deprivation, but scholarly articles and researches provide enough data to see the last of shift workers. They divide, rather than unite the society, because they do not share their ideas with colleagues and are passive during breaks – their destroy the social environment; because their immunity, mental and health disorders make them prone to viral infections and risky for public; because their poor performance decreases productivity, quality and quantity, therefore, the potential labor force of night shift workers is a potential damage for the U.S. economy in long-term targeted perspectives, it is an indirect-action environment, which contains unforeseeable consequences.