Many people who work on night shifts must deal with fatigue and drowsiness, which increase their risk of a workplace accident. Now, research suggests that working the night shift for long periods of time can cause long-term damage to your health.
According to the research, shift-based jobs are associated with medical conditions including type II diabetes, heart attacks, heart disease and cancer. The association was pointed out by scientists at the Sleep Research Centre in Surrey in the United Kingdom.
Researchers found that the disruption of shift work causes damage in the body at the most basic level. The researchers were not prepared for the extent, scale and speed of the health damage caused by working the night shift.
The human body has its own natural clock, which is typically tuned to sleep at night and be active during the day. However, when this natural rhythm of the human body is altered by working the night shift, the circadian rhythm is thrown into chaos. This has a profound effect on the human body, altering hormonal balance and body temperature. Athletic ability, mood and brain function may be impaired.
The research was based on an analysis of 22 people who were evaluated as they shifted from a normal pattern of working in the day and sleeping at night to night-based shiftwork. Blood tests on these workers revealed that 6% of genes were timed to be active at certain times of the day. However, when the study subjects worked through the night, that genetic fine-tuning was eliminated. More than 97% of the rhythmic genes were thrown into chaos as a result of the change in sleep patterns.
Every organ in the body works according to a specific pattern, but with shift-based work, that pattern was lost. The researchers compare the internal system of a person who works night shifts to living in a house where clocks in every room show different times. As a result, there is chaos in the house, with people in each room performing activities at a different time.
Previous studies have indicated that shift workers may be getting too little sleep because they are sleeping during the wrong time of the day. Napping in the daytime because you have a shift to work at night may not result in sufficient rest. Workers who are fatigued because of disrupted sleep are less able to concentrate and more prone to accidents on the job.