The normal functions of the human body are tightly controlled by circadian rhythms - a 24-hour rhythm or an internal clock that helps determine when to sleep, wake up, eat and digest and even regulates your hormones. Any disruption to this rhythm may lead to metabolic disturbances and health issues such as diabetes and obesity.
Shift workers, who have to work permanent or in rotational night shifts are most affected by these problems. However, the exact cause of these metabolic disturbances was not really known.
Now, a group of researchers at the University of Missouri say that they have found the reason why night shift workers face health issues. The findings of their study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, suggest that body cells produce different kinds of messages during day and night time. These messages are transferred through tiny packets called exosomes and are disrupted during night shifts, leading to health issues.
The researchers suggested that the study might help determine which employees are more suited for night shifts and reduce the health risk to the rest.
While it may still take some time to make use of the findings. It is important to know how shift work may affect your health and how you can avoid it.
Sleep deprivation, mental health issues and fatigue
According to the National Sleep Foundation, USA, night shift workers tend to have a higher risk of various mental health issues including depression and stress. Increased workload and stress can lead to both mental and physical fatigue and a decline in concentration. Reduced alertness would, in turn, make them prone to accidents and errors. Chronic fatigue leads to problems like headaches, sleep problems, muscle and joint pain and depression.
Night shifts workers are generally not able to sleep well. Experts say that day sleep is lighter and shorter and thus does not have the restorative effects of a full night’s sleep. Long-term sleep deprivation may affect memory, alertness, decision making and reaction time.
Physical health issues
Along with fatigue, night shifts also put you at risk of several other health issues that include indigestion, stomach pain, constipation, peptic ulcers, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and gastroenteritis.
Additionally, you may become more prone to common infections like cold and flu. Night shift also exacerbates existing health conditions including diabetes, asthma and epilepsy and it may affect how certain medicines work for you.
A person’s social environment is said to play a huge role in their health and well being. Due to their shift hours, night shift workers are not able to spend enough time with their family and friends. As a result, they often end up feeling moody, isolated and depressed.
Ways to manage health as a night shift worker
Here are some ways to manage your health while doing night shifts:
- Sleep for at least 7-9 hours every day and do not delay going to bed when you reach home.
- Make sure to have your breakfast before you sleep though so you are not woken up by hunger pangs.
- Do not smoke or drink right before bed.
- Make sure that your bedroom does not have bright lights as it might disrupt your sleep. Use blackout curtains to block natural light.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Bring a bottle of water at work if that helps.
- Avoid caffeine at least 4-5 hours before your shift ends. This will help you sleep better when you reach home.
- Try to eat in line with your circadian rhythm instead of eating throughout your shift. Bring your own food to work if you can. It will ensure that you eat healthy.
- Make sure to sit down to eat instead of snacking or eating while sitting in front of a computer. This will also give you some time to rest in between.
For more information, read our article on How to fall asleep.
Health articles on News18 are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.