Whether night-shift work is a ne­ces­sity or a life­style choice, the al­tered sleep pat­terns that go with it can wreak havoc on your health.

Healthy Food Guide (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Is your job mak­ing you fat? Re­search links shift work with poor health

Shift work is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar be­cause of the high and grow­ing de­mand for work­place flex­i­bil­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity in mod­ern so­ci­ety. The flex­i­bil­ity of shift work brings with it a down­side, how­ever. A swelling pool of re­search links it with ad­verse health prob­lems that in­clude obe­sity and meta­bolic con­di­tions like di­a­betes.

The lat­est re­search

A re­cent sci­en­tific re­view has ze­roed in on the strength of the link be­tween shift work and the preva­lence of obe­sity. ‘Shift work’ was said to oc­cur when the em­ployee reg­u­larly switched be­tween day­time and overnight sched­ules, or worked ex­clu­sively overnight shifts. The re­view in­ves­ti­gated 28 stud­ies that put the health im­pact of shift work un­der the mi­cro­scope.

It found the link be­tween shift work and obe­sity was strong, with the per­ma­nent shift work­ers ex­pe­ri­enc­ing up to 30 per cent higher risk of obe­sity than other work­ers. These per­ma­nent shift work­ers were more likely to gain ex­cess weight com­pared to work­ers who al­ter­nated be­tween day and night shifts. This pointed to on­go­ing dis­rup­tion of nor­mal night sleep pat­terns be­ing par­tic­u­larly harm­ful, the study said.

The re­view also found that the big­gest worry was not pri­mar­ily weight gain in gen­eral — it was where the weight was go­ing to. It turned out that peo­ple who rou­tinely worked the grave­yard shift ac­cu­mu­lated more dan­ger­ous abdominal fat.

Out of sync

Shift work chal­lenges your body’s nat­u­ral cir­ca­dian rhythm, a 24–hour in­ter­nal clock which reg­u­larly trans­ports you be­tween sleepi­ness and alert­ness. Shift work cre­ates a mis­align­ment be­tween your in­ter­nal clock and the out­side world. This can cause your body to se­crete drowsi­ness-in­duc­ing chem­i­cals when you’re work­ing, or make you alert and awake when you’re try­ing to sleep. Ex­po­sure to bright lights dur­ing the night in­ten­si­fies the prob­lems caused by shift work. Light ex­po­sure sup­presses the pro­duc­tion of the sleep hor­mone called mela­tonin. Mela­tonin is known to play a key role in reg­u­lat­ing hor­mones such as in­sulin, cor­ti­sol and lep­tin.

Re­searchers have con­ducted sleep lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­ments over five weeks where peo­ple had their sleep pat­terns dis­rupted and were slowly shifted to day­time sleep­ing and night­time wak­ing to mimic shift work. The re­ver­sal of the cir­ca­dian rhythm caused a drop in their me­tab­o­lism. That’s bad news for long-term weight gain. Those in the ex­per­i­ment also saw their in­sulin fall by a third — mak­ing them less able to con­trol their blood glu­cose lev­els.

What can we do?

Shift work chal­lenges healthy eat­ing habits and dis­cour­ages you from ex­er­cis­ing reg­u­larly. Shift work­ers should be even more aware of this than oth­ers.

One way to tackle the healthy eat­ing prob­lem is to take healthy foods and snacks to work — and not rely on the lim­ited op­tions avail­able dur­ing night­time hours.

Em­ploy­ers also need to ac­cept some level of re­spon­si­bil­ity and be flex­i­ble with sched­ules. They should avoid ex­pos­ing any sin­gle em­ployee to long-term night-shift work.

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