The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Worry is sleep, not security
- Women working nights don’t get enough rest during day
Wake & Work: A call centre employee in Bangalore

April 9: Women working night shifts don’t have a problem with security, but in getting enough sleep, says a study.

The survey carried out by business lobby Assocham busts the general belief that women suffer a sense of insecurity because of the high rates of crime against them in metropolitan cities. Some 71.1 per cent of the respondents in the survey, sponsored by the National Commission for Women, said they didn’t feel insecure working nights.

On the contrary, 60 per cent said they had what the report called “sleep difficulties”.

While insecurity remains a problem, as borne out by the rape and murder of call centre employee Pratibha Murthy by the driver while returning home at night in Bangalore, the survey is an indication of the health concerns the so-called new economy is creating.

Working night shifts will have much the same effect on men ' they will need to catch up on the missed sleep. Doctors say the body clock settles to the new rhythm when a person starts working nights and sleeps during the day without any serious health implications.

Dr L.N. Tripathi, a neurosurgeon, said: “Continuous night shift changes the sleep rhythm. The rhythm of the body’s biological clock is affected and this builds up stress. But with adequate sleep during the day, the body adjusts to the change within a few weeks.”

But women the survey spoke to said they could not get enough sleep during the day as they had household duties to perform.

“Naps during the day can never make up for a full night’s sleep,” the survey said.

Dr R.P. Sengupta, also a neurosurgeon, said: “A person doing night duty for a long period must have at least six hours of sound sleep during the day. If one does not get adequate sleep for a long period of time, the person can suffer from Sleep Deprivation Syndrome. It can cause exhaustion and extreme fatigue, sometimes leading to a collapse.”

Anurita Chattopadhyay, the mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old girl, gave up her job at an outsourcing company after four years because she couldn’t match the competing demands of work and family.

“It is extremely difficult if you have small children. After you come back from office and the child wants quality time, you feel tired and guilty about not spending enough time with your child,” she said.

The study had a sample size of 272 participants, including 216 women who had done night shift for at least six months.

Fifty-six employers supervising women on such shifts were also surveyed.

The report throws up the sad truth that though the new economy is making different demands on the people working in it, the support system to help them cope is often lacking.

Only 8.6 per cent of the respondents reported childcare facilities on the company premises. It is likely that the result won’t be very different if offices where women keep regular day hours were surveyed.

Some of the other health problems reported by women consisted of backache (30 per cent said they suffered from it), continuous fatigue (45 per cent) and digestive disorders (50 per cent).

Backache could result from sitting in one place for hours, poor posture or simply unsuitable chairs, but fatigue and digestion problems are consequences of lack of sleep.

Hours are long, though women are not complaining. Some 83 per cent said they were satisfied with the duration of work in spite of the fact that schedules often deviated from the usual shifts.

“It is found that a considerable percentage of the women workers render more than eight hours of work on the night shift, and sometimes are required to work on holidays also,” the study said.

Some 87 per cent of the women were satisfied with the arrangements made by their employers, while 13 per cent felt difficulties during commuting,

The report said women’s organisations were in favour of women working night shifts. It said the amended Factories Act, which allowed employment of women during nights, was a progressive step and the rules laid down by law should be strictly enforced.

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