Some 15 percent of American workers don’t have “traditional” work hours. Doctors, nurses, police officers, truck drivers, mini-mart employees and many more people do what is known as “shift work.”

People who work during nontraditional hours — particularly those who work throughout the night while most people are sleeping — are throwing their body’s biological clock out of whack. That clock, also known as “circadian rhythm” tells our bodies to become sleepy when it gets dark by producing melatonin, which is a chemical that promotes sleep. Therefore, even if a person has the time to get eight hours of sleep during the day before they go to work, their body resists.

This lack of sleep can cause health issues such as high blood pressure over time. It can also leave people sleep-deprived when they’re at work — and driving to and from work. This can lead to accidents and errors that can endanger the worker and potentially others.

If you have the night shift and are dealing with drowsiness on the job, there are a number of things you can do to stay alert. For example:

  • Stay active during your breaks by taking a walk or doing some other type of exercise.
  • Caffeinate with tea, coffee or sodas.
  • Ask your co-workers for help keeping you alert, and do the same for them.
  • If you’re able to, get the most tedious tasks finished early in your shift when you’re most alert.

Often, shift workers have formal or informal support groups that help them share ideas for dealing with the challenge of remaining alert and safe during overnight hours. Your employer should also provide support and assistance to help you adjust to these hours.

Too many preventable injuries occur because a worker was drowsy. Shift workers can injure themselves or cause injuries to co-workers and others. If you’ve been injured on the job, it’s important to make sure that you get any workers’ compensation and benefits you’re entitled to in order to help you get the medical care you need and provide for your family if you’re unable to work for a time.