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Physical Consequences Of Shift Work

Written by Courteney

Posted on March 19, 2016 at 1:07 am

Many studies have been conducted on the topic of how chronic shiftwork impacts the mind and body over time. The research has drawn links to various mental and physical ailments such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and insomnia.

The Trouble With Shiftwork

With nearly 15 million Americans clocking in and out at all hours of the day and night, there has been interest within the scientific community on how much of a toll these strange work hours may be having on people. Because the body naturally shuts down in the night and perks up with daylight, shift worker’s systems never really adapt to their flip-flopping sleep schedules. The majority of shift workers live with varying degrees of insomnia. Whether a person alternates from night and day shifts, works a couple weeks on and week off or works random shifts peppered at all different times, the body’s natural circadian rhythm (internal clock) is constantly being assailed.

Shiftwork and Cardiovascular Disease

While research has been inconclusive on the exact statistics about shiftwork and heart disease, it does point to an adverse effect on heart health. Indirectly, shift work seems to come with increased levels of stress on the body. These increased cortisol levels paired with an upset in natural bodily rhythms can contribute to cardiovascular disease over time. According to WebMD the longer a person works nightshifts, the higher the likelihood they will develop some type of heart disease such as hypertension or stroke.

Wonky Hours Can Cause Stomach Trouble

A study done by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago illustrates a higher instance of stomach disruption among shift workers. The extensive study showed that disruptions of circadian rhythms weakens the intestinal lining. It also studied several patients with Crohn’s disease (a condition marked by inflammatory bowels) who had many more flare-ups with their disorders when working night shifts, and could better regulate their health when working standard 9-5 shifts. This is one of many studies that have shown similar outcomes.

Shiftwork May Add Unwanted Pounds

There is a strong correlation between shift working and obesity. This is likely due to secondary factors such as: poor diet, it may be hard for shift workers to eat healthy during the nighttime or on the run so a quick vending machine snack for energy often suffices; more sedentary lifestyles, many shift workers are perpetually tired and may have limited energy for exercise between shifts (especially those working shifts longer than 10 hours); shift workers have lower levels of leptin, the hormone that helps regulate appetite and prevent overeating. It is largely controlled by sleep duration and deprivation.

Are Some Types of Shift Work Better?

The consensus seems to be that when it comes to shift work, steady night shifts are the best option because the body can become at least somewhat used to the schedule. Doctors suggest little fixes such as exposing yourself to bright lights during night shifts to trick the body into thinking it is daytime so you ‘should be awake’, then wearing dark shades on the drive home so as not to perk up with the sight of daylight before going to sleep.

What About Rotational Workers?

Unfortunately, as the body never really copes to ever-changing work schedules, there isn’t much to do except to try and stick to a routine when at all possible and get as much sleep as you can. Some people find sleeping pills helpful when it is time to rest, and mild stimulants such as caffeine helps them stay awake during shifts. Be careful to limit caffeine intake, and use sleeping pills only as advised by a doctor. Making the effort to eat healthy when working is also a good idea for shift workers so as to avoid obesity or other health problems. It can’t hurt to talk to your doctor, or one of our skilled physicians at DocChat about some of your shift working concerns. Thanks for reading!

 

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