When the vast majority of Americans are turning off the lights at night crawling into bed to go to sleep, another 2 million Americans (about 3.2 percent of the work force) are just getting their “day” started to go to work. Night shift workers include individuals dedicated to their job and who are absolutely necessary to keep our country safe and chugging along. These people include police officers, doctors, nurses, truck drivers, and factory workers working the “graveyard” shift.
Nightshift work is not for everyone. It can be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging. Lack of sleep, feeling constantly tired, digestive problems and weight gain, stress on relationships, and even drug or alcohol abuse, are issues some of these workers face.
For men working through the night, a health and quality of life challenge they may face is erectile dysfunction (ED). ED, also known as impotence, is when a man is unable to get or maintain an erection adequate for sexual intercourse. Almost all adult men, especially after age 50, will likely have a bout of ED at some point. But about 30 million men in the U.S. experience ED regularly.
Studies find men who work a night shift may have an increased risk of erectile dysfunction
Since shift work involves working hours when the rest of us are sleeping, these workers are at risk of having a sleep disorder due to an impaired awake/sleep cycle. Over the years, several studies have found that men shift workers with sleep disorders have a higher risk of having ED when compared to men without sleep disorders.
A 2020 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine included information of 204 male shift workers of which 48 of them had a sleep disorder caused by shift work. Men, who worked night shifts and had a sleep disorder due to their unusual hours, had poor erectile function. The findings suggest that circadian rhythm disturbance may significantly impact ED. Testosterone therapy was used to treat these men and it did help some of them, shift work should be seen as a potential risk factor for ED and men working through the night should be assessed for ED by their healthcare provider.
In a couple of earlier studies in 2017, research found that men employed in shift work are not only prone to ED but also low libido. Even if a man desires sexual intimacy, they may still struggle to perform. In addition, constant tiredness and having a partner working an opposite work schedule, can be difficult when drowsy and trying to feel amorous.
It is believed that sleep deprivation in men may reduce the blood vessels’ ability to control blood flow to the penis. Add to this, men experiencing high stress levels that often goes with graveyard shifts, is not helpful for maintaining a healthy erection.
A healthy approach for men who work a night shift
Trying to pay bills and feed your family sometimes may mean taking a nightshift job. While working through the night and sleeping during the day, is not an ideal situation and can lead to ED and a lowered sex drive, here are suggestions for making the graveyard shift workable keeping you and your sex life healthier:
- Stick to a routine. Use a time-management strategy to create a schedule for other aspects of your daily life. Plan for activities for self-care like exercising, meditation, and napping.
- Involve family members in supporting your schedule. Post your work and sleep schedule so everyone in the family knows when you’ll be working, sleeping, and awake. Try to find a daily meal to share with family members to stay connected during the days you work.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Start by keeping a regular sleep schedule and creating an environment that is conducive to sleep. Avoid bright light as much as possible when sleeping during the day. Use blackout curtains, wear an eye mask, run a white noise machine or turn on a fan, and avoid using electronic devices before your bedtime.
- Prioritize sleep. You need good sleep to keep healthy and stay sharp when working. Avoid straying from your sleep schedule. Chronic sleep loss has serious health consequences for health like ED. It’s recommended to sleep 7-9 hours each night.
- Use caffeine wisely. Avoid energy drinks that are high in sugar and caffeine as they are associated with negative health effects such as elevated stress levels, higher blood pressure, increased risk of obesity, and poor quality of sleep.
- Eat healthy. Shift work is linked to poor digestive health and weight gain. Therefore it’s important to eat healthy – try prepping meals and snacks ahead of time. Include a healthy protein source, along with greens or other vegetables. Avoid sugary foods and instead opt for whole fruit, trail mix, nuts, or a high protein energy bar.
- Stay hydrated. The average person should drink 11-16 cups of water a day. Staying hydrated will keep you energized and alert. Avoid sugary sodas and fruit drinks which make blood sugar spike and then crash. Drink enough water to regulate body temperature, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly.
- Night shift work can increase risk of heart disease along with other conditions. It’s vital to keep a consistent exercise routine that includes cardio, strength, and flexibility training to reduce risk of chronic health conditions and to help maintain a healthy weight and improve mood, cognitive function, and circulation.
- Limit stress. Think positive by getting in the right mindset and engage in activities that make you laugh and help relieve stress. Each day, do something you enjoy during the hours you are awake.
- Talk to your doctor. If you are experiencing ED or low libido, discuss this with your doctor. Besides taking testosterone, there are other treatments available that can successfully help your sex life return.