Shift-Workers are Like High Performance Athletes

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

May 14, 2014

jet-lag, safety management, shift-work


Anyone working shift-work[1] knows how hard it is on your mind and body, not to mention the toll it takes on your social and family life. I think there needs to be a change in our cultural thinking. We have to prioritize sleep, not squeeze it in wherever we can. Performance, health and well-being will all improve if we do. Shift-workers need a little extra help here. Most of them are working odd hours without any training on how to best manage their health, well-being and performance.

I think we should treat our shift-workers like high performance athletes. Both are using their minds and bodies differently than the 9 to 5 worker and both need coaching on how to stay mentally and physically healthy and keep their performance levels high.

Fatigue Specialist smiling at her patientOne of the easiest ways to provide coaching to your high performance shift-workers is through Chrono-clinics[2]. At least once a year every shift-worker would attend a clinic. The clinic would provide a refresher training session on optimizing health, well-being and performance and sleep. After the training, each shift-worker would meet with a Human Fatigue Specialist or chrono-biologist. The shift-worker’s circadian rhythms would be assessed to make sure they are synchronized to the worker’s schedule and the “coach” and “athlete” would talk about how to improve health, well-being and performance. The coach would provide personalized strategies for each shift-worker to address the mind, body, family and social life challenges imposed by shift-work.

Chrono-clinics don’t have to be a costly investment either. By using a contracted Human Fatigue Specialist or chrono-biologist, the organization does not have to train an internal HR or OSH employee on the relationship between shift-work, performance, health and well-being nor would the organization have to develop assessment tools, training programs or performance enhancing guidelines. In fact, if you compare the financial benefits of improved performance, reduced accidents, absenteeism and health insurance, to the investment in annual chrono-clinics, I bet you would find a decent ROI.


[1] I include in the shift-work group, any variation of non-standard work hours. If you work outside the standard 9 to 5 range, I consider you a shift-worker and this article applies to you.

[2] I first came across the idea of Chrono-clinics in 2001 in this article: Pati, A. K., Chandrawanshi, A., & Reinberg, A. (2001). Shift work: Consequences and management. Current Science, 81(1), 32-52.

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