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Night Shift

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Duplicate or distribute this activity. Students may work independently or cooperatively.

Night Owls
Many of the employees in “Night Shift” say that the hardest part of their jobs is getting a good night’s sleep after the sun comes up. And in Segment 8, Dr. William Dement warns that a lack of sleep can cause not only personal health problems, but societal problems as well. Do you think people are aware of the importance of sleep?

• Take a class survey to find out the amount of hours that your classmates sleep per night. Ask them if they usually feel tired, or if they think they are getting enough sleep. You may also want to include parents or working friends in your survey.

• Do research to learn more about how much sleep the average person needs per night, and what the health benefits of regular sleep are. Also investigate what happens to your body when you don’t get enough sleep. Check out Night Shift’s web resources at www.pbs.org/livelyhood/nightshift/webresources.html as well as www.pbs.org/livelyhood/nightshift/sleep.html

Research what kinds of problems can occur from lack of sleep. You may want to form groups to investigate the accidents mentioned in “Night Shift,” such as the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor malfunction as well as the common and dangerous problem of driving while drowsy. Some websites to help you get started are: www.fda.gov/fdac/features/1998/sleepsoc.html, www.toad.net/~andrews/sleep.html, and www.oilspill.state.ak.us

Summarize your findings in the form of an oral report or visual display. Present your findings to your classmates, and offer your opinion on how people can get the sleep they need to stay healthy. You might also work with classmates to create a public service campaign to inform people of the importance of sleep for health and safety. Post information at stores, doctor’s offices, and other locations in your community.

Job Safety
In many overnight jobs, such as an emergency room nurse or a cross-country trucker, the ability to stay awake and alert is crucial. But what happens if the night shift workers aren’t getting enough sleep? Have a discussion about how to decrease the negative effects of tiredness.

• Identify the jobs shown in “Night Shift” in which worker alertness is crucial. Which ones do you think require the greatest amount of alertness? Why?

• If workers are tired or nodding off during these jobs, what problems could arise? Are any of these problems life-threatening?

• What precautions could employees and their employers take to make sure no one falls asleep on the job?

• Find some new ideas companies are coming up with to keep workers alert. For some ideas, check out the Livelyhood website at: www.pbs.org/livelyhood/nightshift/sleep.html

Offer what you think are the best solutions in the form of a brief presentation, and deliver your analysis to the class.

The Great Sleep Debate
Although some night shift workers claim that their bodies adjust to a different sleep schedule, other individuals maintain that the human body never really makes that adjustment. Do you think it is natural and healthy for people to work the night shift?

• Do research to learn more about the body’s natural sleep schedule. A good place to start is the "Night Shift" web resources, particularly the circadian technologies page and The National Sleep Foundation’s page, at www.pbs.org/livelyhood/nightshift/webresources.html.

• Divide the class into two groups. One half will argue that night shifts are not significantly disruptive to the body’s sleep schedule, and provide important economic benefits to individuals and society. The other half will argue that night work is unavoidably disruptive to sleep schedules, and so is a threat to the well-being of both individuals and society.

After the debate, let each individual give his or her opinion on the debate. Make a chart delineating students' points of view. Post these results in the classroom.