How Working the Night Shift Increases Your Diabetes Risk

By , Category : General Health

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Working Nights Affects Your HealthIf you’ve ever worked a night shift, you know how tough it can be. There are the obvious challenges of being awake and at work while the rest of the world sleeps—obviously the world is set up for people to be awake during the day.

If you want to get anything done—go shopping, to the doctor, see your children—it must be accomplished during the daytime; but if you’re working the night shift, that becomes an issue because the daytime is now your time to sleep.

But a new study is suggesting that working the night shift is more than just an inconvenience; it can be a threat to your health, too!

Study Links Diabetes and Night Shift Workers

A new study is indicating a close link between diabetes and night shift workers, and honestly, this comes as little surprise. Working nights puts a huge demand on your body—and this increases your chances for developing inflammation, stress, poor nutrition habits, and a disrupted circadian rhythm. All of these can create big health problems, including diabetes.

Night Shift and Weight Gain Risk

For anybody who’s interested in weight management and healthy eating, preparing healthy meals at home and bringing them with you to work is recommended. But this recommendation is even more serious for people who work the night shift. In fact, it might even be essential.

When you work a night shift, there aren’t really a lot of nutritious options available. A good friend of mine used to work a shift that started at 6 p.m. and finished at 2 a.m. While working this position, he put on a lot of weight because he basically said that other than pizza, McDonald’s, or the variety store, there wasn’t anything open where he could pick up a healthy meal. He couldn’t go to the grocery store after work and he certainly couldn’t go to a restaurant that would serve anything resembling a nutritious meal. When you work the night shift, you’re almost forced to eat poorly.

That’s why getting to the grocery store on the weekend or your days off and preparing your meals in advance is essential for your health. It gives you options and takes away the necessity of having to eat whatever is available at 2 a.m. And as you likely know by now, your diet plays a major role in weight gain and your risk for type 2 diabetes.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

Data from an ongoing study into the health of African-American women show that those working night shifts are significantly more likely to develop diabetes than those who don’t. Relative to having never worked a night shift, the risk for diabetes was 17% higher for those who worked one to two years on a night shift. When a person had worked a night shift for three to nine years, their diabetes risk increased to 23%. Finally, for those working a night shift for more than 10 years, the risk shot up to 42%.

What’s even more interesting than these shocking numbers is that researchers accounted for lifestyle and BMI factors in diabetes risk. Even after doing so, night shift workers had a higher risk, showing that working a night shift is an independent risk factor for diabetes, regardless of diet. That said, a healthy diet can still result in an overall risk reduction.

Your Circadian Rhythm and Diabetes Risk

People who work on night shifts might also experience a long, drawn-out form of jet lag that can have long-lasting metabolic effects. Working a night shift can cause fatigue and sleepiness during your scheduled awake hours—a brief period before work, during your shift, and after work—and poor sleep during scheduled sleep hours when it’s sunny outside, (and likely noisy with the hustle and bustle of the street). There are also factors like other family members or children that make it hard to sleep during the day. After all, life for almost everyone else takes place during the day.

These disruptions to your circadian rhythm can likely increase your risk of diabetes due to a few factors. One factor may be that the less sleep you get, the more stressful it is on your body. This often leads to inflammation that can contribute to diabetes risk. It can also result in a slower metabolism that can cause problems with processing carbohydrates and sugar.

If you have to work a night shift, then do your best to create an environment that limits diabetes risk. Try to pack your own food by scheduling grocery trips and cooking sessions for your days off, while creating a home environment that allows you to sleep easily during the day. Blackout curtains, earplugs, and a quiet room are a must.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Salisbury, D., “Circadian clock linked to obesity, diabetes and heart attacks,” Vanderbilt University web site, February 21, 2013; http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2013/02/circadian-clock-obesity/, last accessed January 15, 2015.
Gale, J.E., et al., “Disruption of Circadian Rhythm Accelerates Development of Diabetes through Pancreatic Beta-Cell Loss and Dysfunction,” Journal of Biological Rhythms October 2011; 26(5): 423–433, doi: 10.1177/0748730411416341.
Diabetologia, “Black women working night shifts have an increased risk of developing diabetes,” ScienceDaily web site, January 11, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150111195429.htm.




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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »