According to a new study, the disruption to shift the natural body rhythms of the workers may play a part in their increased risk of disease.
Every human body is operating on a 24 hour clock. Known as the circadian rhythm, it system uses factors such as daylight to decide when a individual sleeps and wakes.
It also impacts body functions like metabolism and cognition. Nevertheless, technology and changing working hours will disturb this delicate balance in modern age.
Conflict between the natural body rhythm of a person and their way of living can have a number of detrimental effects including hormonal changes.
These changes can cause metabolic syndrome. This is a condition that increases the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and heart disease on an person.
Night shift workers, who make up almost a fifth of the U.S. workforce, are more likely than others to experience those effects. Not only do they have a greater chance of developing sleep disorders, they also have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than other workers.
Individuals working with frequent or shifting hours can also face an even greater risk of sleep problems and metabolic syndrome.
Researchers previously believed that this increased risk was attributable to the lifestyle habits that tend to go hand in hand with shift work. There is, however, no concrete evidence to support that claim.
Therefore, researchers are starting to dig deeper into the connection between shift patterns and metabolic syndrome.
A new review in the American Osteopathic Association Journal, focusing on the circadian rhythm, did exactly that.
Examining a number of studies and clinical trials from 2018, the review authors used the findings to suggest ways to reduce the circadian impact of shift work, such as sleep and diet optimization.
“It’s true that getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising is critical to everyone’s health,” says lead author of the study, Kshma Kulkarni, from California’s Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“Nevertheless, the nature of shift work is so disorientating and discordant with those principles, we really need to help people in those jobs strategize ways to get what they need.”
Not only individual workers can help. Employers and health-care professionals are also responsible for making improvements.
Improving general health
Good quality sleep is one of the simplest ways to avoid harmful effects on the health. Shift workers themselves should try to sleep at the same time for 7–8 hours each day, Kulkarni suggests.
Workers should try to sleep in the evening, or as close to the evening as possible, to help the body’s natural cycle. Later they should take naps and these should last between 20 and 120 minutes.
One way employers can aid in this field is by moving away from changing shift patterns. Kulkarni also suggests employers should make sure shifts start before midnight and last no longer than 11 hours.
A further element to tackle is nutrition. Studies has shown that shift workers tend to miss meals and instead settle for sucrose snacks.
It’s vital to eat three meals each day, Kulkarni says. Such meals should include a good amount of protein and vegetables, along with any snacks a person has.
It’s also a helpful step to take to consume more calories earlier in a person’s day. Therefore workers should try to schedule breaks earlier in a shift and provide healthy snack choices.
Shift workers should also aim to take into account exercise levels. Kulkarni suggests working out each day at around the same time, at least 5 hours before bedtime.
Prioritizing aerobic exercise, such as running and dancing, may be better, as this can improve a person’s sleep quality.
The importance of light
Not the only lifestyle choices that can benefit shift workers, these three factors are.
Adequate light exposure can also be of allow. To their advantage, certain light sources can alter the circadian rhythm of a individual.
Night workers will strive to improve their light exposure before and during shifts. Installing high intensity office lighting can also help workers to feel more alert.
Also, avoiding blue light 2–3 hours before going to sleep is significant.
Not forgetting medicine
Interestingly, Kulkarni and colleagues think medical treatment is of value.
Medications that help control the sleep cycle, such as certain benzodiazepines and antidepressants, could benefit people at risk of metabolic syndrome.
Similarly, a physical technique called manipulative osteopathic therapy may reduce the amount of time shift workers spend trying to fall asleep.
“In this line of work, it’s critical that we address the health issues facing people,” explains Kulkarni, especially since “the strength of our economy and the safety of our society depends heavily on night shift workers.”
To prevent metabolic syndrome, health care professionals should search for signs of a disrupted circadian rhythm among workers— especially those in sectors like hospitality and emergency services.
Early detection allows a person to successfully implement lifestyle changes and treatment regimens.
However, further research is needed to evaluate the most effective strategies.