Have you ever stopped to think about it? Most singers perform evenings and even into the wee hours of the morning. This can set us up to have a schedule similar to many shift workers. Shift work is defined as anything that is outside regular daytime work hours that could encompass 7 am to 6 pm.
In fact, some of us may even be pulling double shifts if you have a day job, as well as your nighttime gigs or rotational shifts if you have a day job during the week and then perform weekends. Even singing teachers can be considered shift workers.
This can have serious consequences to our health. Within the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of "health", shift work is a risky condition at all three of their reference levels. It is a risk factor for health, it also perturbs the sleep/wake cycle and circadian rhythms, and it hampers family and social life.
Some of the health issues that have been linked to shift work include:
Some speculation on the cause of these health risks is that our sleep/wake cycle is disrupted, which affects the circadian rhythm, or body clock. Our bodies naturally are primed for the difference between day and night. In the morning, our body temperature starts to rise to wake us. Sunlight signals receptors into the eye, which sets off production of hormones that will help us thrive through the day. In the evening, our body temperature starts to drop and levels of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep, start to rise. When this circadian cycle is disrupted it can cause hormonal imbalances (including melatonin, reproductive hormones, insulin, hunger hormones, cortisol, seratonin and more), a rise in cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, which all can lead to health problems.
These disruptions can also lead to insufficient sleep and poor sleep quality. This can lead to fatigue and loss of mental alertness, which could impact our ability to perform at our best. The International Classification of Sleep Disorders has officially defined the Shift Work Sleep Disorder (307.45-1) as one that "consists of symptoms of insomnia or excessive sleepiness that occur as transient phenomena in relation to work schedules".
Family and social life can become strained by working hours that don’t fit with the schedules of family and friends. Socializing with friends becomes difficult, since you are working during their leisure time. Singers with children may get insufficient or disrupted sleep by having to take care of young children or get children off to school in the morning. After school time may be taken up with rehearsals or teaching.
I personally experienced this with my children. When by kids were preschoolers, it was great – I’d have them all day and then my husband would come home and I would teach from late afternoon through the evening. Once they started school not so great. I’d start teaching as soon as they got home from school until their bedtime. It did cause strain and my kids did start having some behavioural problems until I was able to schedule some family time into my evenings.
What can we do?
For many singers there is little choice, but to continue to work evenings. If booking daytime gigs, like church work or singing at retirement homes isn’t going to do it for you, then there are some things you can do to try to make your schedule work for you and get your body primed for your work schedule.
Have you ever considered your singing schedule as shift work? I’d love to know how you cope with it and if you use any of these strategies. If you haven’t give them a try and let me know how you do.
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