Do you work the graveyard shift? A lack of sleep, working under bright fluorescent lights, and eating a large meal on your break in the middle of the night can all harm your health.
Researchers have found links between disrupting the body’s biological clock and sleep deprivation, low vitamin D, cardiovascular risk, and obesity.
Get a FREE Special Report from the editors of University Health News, Sleeping Disorders: Narcolepsy, sleep apnea test, snoring solutions, insomnia cures, and more.
You’ll read about habits and conditions that rob us of peaceful slumber.
The top 6 damaging side effects of working night shift and lack of sleep
- Sleep loss. About 10% of shift workers have a diagnosable “shift work sleep disorder,” which involves trouble sleeping at night, not getting enough sleep, and feeling sleepy while at work. It can be very difficult for night-shift workers to get sufficient sleep during the day, leading to an overall sleep deficit.
- Low vitamin D. The “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D, is important for many aspects of health and can even reduce your risk for mortality. Unfortunately, night workers often don’t get the normal amount of sunlight exposure; studies have found shift work to be associated with low levels of vitamin D.
- Weight gain. Lack of sleep and sleeping odd hours are considered independent risk factors for gaining weight, and shift workers are more likely to have obesity and higher BMIs than day workers.[4,5]
- High triglycerides. Studies show that shift workers tend to have elevated triglyceride levels, even after adjusting for other factors such as dietary intake.[4,6,7] Elevated triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease.
- High cholesterol. Shift workers also have higher LDL cholesterol levels, another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
- Cardiovascular disease. One of the major risks of shift work is cardiovascular disease. [6,8,] Initially, it was thought that shift workers may have higher cardiovascular risk because of poor eating habits, socioeconomic factors, or the stress of a difficult schedule. However, recent research correcting for these factors has found that the link may actually be due to disruptions in sleep cycles, causing an alteration in the body’s biological clock.
What causes a lack of sleep and sleep deprivation symptoms? The importance of our biological clock
The circadian rhythm regulates our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Although most people associate the body clock with a part of the brain that regulates when we sleep, all the cells in our body are actually in tune with this 24-hour pattern. Our circadian rhythm affects many processes throughout the entire body, and proper function of our biological clock is important for maintaining good overall health. When we are exposed to light at night, when we sleep at odd times, and when we eat on an irregular schedule, our biological clock gets disrupted.
Studies have shown that eating out of sync with our normal rhythm changes the way our circadian rhythm regulates metabolism. Many of the genes that regulate our circadian rhythm also regulate the oscillating levels of lipids in our blood. Circadian rhythms control lipid and carbohydrate balance to optimize energy storage for use throughout the day. This is why sleeping and eating on an irregular schedule, as with night shift, can disrupt triglyceride and cholesterol levels and make us gain weight.
How can you reduce your risk of these health effects?
Researchers believe that improving sleep habits could help reverse conditions influenced by disrupted sleep schedules, such as insomnia.
- If you can, try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Sleep and wake at the same time each day.
- Consider wearing blue light blocking glasses when you are awake at night. Read more about them here.
- Avoid eating at night as well, as eating at a point in the 24-hour cycle when your body does not expect food will result in impaired metabolism of that food. Try sticking as close to traditional mealtimes as possible. For example, try eating a late dinner before you go to work and then another meal in the morning, while avoiding any large meals during your night shift.
- When your job requires you to work at night or you have an ever-changing schedule with odd hours, be sure that you are monitoring your health closely.
- Get your triglyceride and cholesterol levels checked regularly; catching rising levels early can help you to make the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk.
- Eat well when working night shift, making sure to maintain a well-rounded diet full of the nutrients that will keep you healthy. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, fiber, and healthy fats like omega-3s into your diet.
- Monitor your weight and avoid soft drinks and processed junk foods that contribute to obesity.
- Supplement with vitamin D as well. Read more about optimal dosage of vitamin D here.
Share your experience
Do you work late into the night or have a job with odd hours? Do you have any tips on sleep deprivation cures or using a sleep aid? Share your experience in the comments section below.