Working the night shift can have some serious health effects. If you work nights, it's important to be aware of these risks and take steps to mitigate them.
The Health Effects of Working Night Shifts
If you work a night shift, you are not alone. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 16% of the workforce in the United States works evening or night shifts. While there are some advantages to working a night shift (e.g., less traffic, less need for childcare), there are also some disadvantages, including the effects of working night shift on health. Let's take a look at some of the most common health effects of night shift workers.
Circadian Rhythm Disruption
One of the most common effects of working night shift on health is disruption to your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is your body's natural sleep-wake cycle, and it is dictated by exposure to light. When you work a night shift, you are exposed to artificial light during hours when your body is programmed to sleep, which can lead to insomnia and other sleep problems. Additionally, this disruption can cause fatigue, which can lead to errors and accidents on the job.
Weight Gain and Increased Risk of Obesity and Diabetes
People who work nights often find themselves snacking more during their shifts. This is because there are often fewer healthy food options available at night and because we tend to crave high-fat, high-sugar foods when we're tired. Another theory is that weight gain is caused by disruptions in the body's natural production of insulin. Additionally, people who work night shifts tend to have poorer diets and exercise less than those who work during the day. This weight gain can lead to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Working the night shift long-term has also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. One theory is that this increased risk is because people who work night shifts tend to have poorer diets and exercise less than those who work during the day. Additionally, disruptions in the body's natural circadian rhythm can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems.
There is mounting evidence that working the night shift can increase your risk of cancer. Studies among nurses and other night shift workers show an increased risk of breast cancer that couldn't be explained by other factors, such as reproductive history, lifestyle, body mass index, or socioeconomic status. In the majority of studies, an excess risk of breast cancer was primarily discovered among women who had worked night shifts for numerous years or with high frequency.
Studies have shown that people who work night shifts are more likely to suffer from depression than those who work during the day. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that working at night can disrupt your social life and make you feel isolated from your friends and family. Another is that night shift work can interfere with your body's natural circadian rhythms, leading to fatigue and other problems.
However, a new study has found that there may be another factor at play: what you eat. The study found that people who ate only during the day were apparently protected from worsening of mood symptoms. This may be because eating during the day helps regulate your body's circadian rhythms, reducing the effects of jet lag and making it easier to adjust to night shift work.
Increased Risk of Injury
Most people know that being tired can make them feel grumpy and less productive. What many people don't realize, however, is that being tired can also lead to accidents and injuries. When you're tired, your reflexes are slower, and you're more likely to make mistakes. This can be extremely dangerous if you're working with machinery or driving a vehicle.
How to Mitigate the Health Effects of Working Night Shifts
The good news is that there are things you can do to mitigate the effects of working night shift on health. First, it's important to get enough sleep. When you're working the night shift, aim for at least seven hours of sleep during the day. It's also important to eat healthy meals and snacks throughout the night. Avoid sugary and processed foods that will give you a quick energy boost but then make you crash later on. Instead, focus on foods that will give you sustained energy, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Finally, make sure to get some exercise. A brief walk or jog during your break can help increase your alertness and improve your mood.
The health effects of night shift workers are well documented. While some of these effects are due to the fact that night shift workers often have poorer diets and exercise less than those who work during the day, there is also evidence that working at night can disrupt your body's natural circadian rhythms and lead to health problems. If you work the night shift, it's important to be aware of these risks and take steps to mitigate them.