For industrial workers, night shifts are a necessary part of the regular workday. Most business operations are forced to work day and night to meet the increasing demand for goods and services. However, those individuals who find themselves working these irregular shifts for a prolonged period of time can suffer from various health problems. Working night shifts forces the body to work against its natural circadian rhythms. The effects of night shifts working are associated with both mental and physical side effects. Since our bodies are meant to adapt to new changes, it’s possible to retrain the body to sleep during the day and stay awake at night. However, if this isn’t done correctly or the body doesn’t adapt at all, you can suffer from serious medical issues. Below is how working night shifts can impact your health.
Working night shifts can affect our bodies at the molecular level according to scientists at the Surrey Sleep Research Centre (SSRC) in the UK. A research carried on a small group of people where their sleep-wake pattern was changed to that of a night shift worker, the results showed that their genetic precision was reduced to one percent.
According to the results obtained from the blood tests, around six percent of our genes are timed to be more or less active at a specific time. And an adjustment from day shift to night shift can disrupt the genetic precision.
Can Cause Sleep Deprivation
Chronic sleep deprivation happens to be the number one side effect of regular night shifts. This type of condition can make a person not to catch up on the sleep they need according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). A person should sleep between seven to nine hours per 24 hours, says the NSF. But, night shifts workers only get between four to five hours of sleep which can mess up with their mental health. Another negative effect of sleep deprivation is difficulties concentrating which increases the risk of injury. A survey done by the NSF found that more errors are basically made during night shifts.
Hormones regulate your metabolism and nights shift can affect the production and circulation of these vital hormones. For example, leptin hormone is important in regulating body weight, blood sugar, and insulin levels. Night shift can interfere with this hormone leading to things like obesity, changes in fat in the body like triglycerides and increased risk of diabetes. If you can’t avoid working at night, then you should possibly consider switching totally to night shifts for a period of time rather than swinging back and forth between night shifts and day shifts. It helps because it allows the body to adjust a bit more.
Increases Risk of Cancer
Some research suggests that women who work night shifts are more likely to get breast cancer. After compiling more than 60 pieces of research done on risks of breast cancer in women who work night shifts, the American Association for Cancer concluded that for every five years of night shift work, the risk of developing cancer in women increases by 3.3 percent. Even worse, it doesn’t matter if you work night shift consistently or just one night a week, the risk of getting cancer is equal.
Increases Risk of Heart Attack and Depression
A study in the British Medical Journal reported that working night shifts lead to a seven percent increase in the chances of a person suffering from a heart attack. The American Heart Association (AHA) concluded that insufficient sleep and sleep cycle disruption are the main contributors to impaired body’s natural rhythms and cardiovascular function.
Moreover, your mental health may be disrupted too resulting in depression and mood disorder when you work night shifts.
Melatonin is a hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. Working night shifts exposes your body to light when it expects it to be dark. The reversal of light and dark suppresses melatonin production and release. The lower levels of melatonin mean that your body would get deep or enough sleep during the day to repair itself. It results in long term sleep deprivation which isn’t good for your health.
There are certain things you can do to avoid the side effects of working night shifts. They include:
- As much as possible you should avoid caffeine. It can stay in your system for long hours thus preventing you from sleeping well after work.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can easily induce sleep but also it reduces rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.
- Sleep in the right environment. Ensure the room is cool, dark if possible and quiet too.
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