For some sleeping is a hobby and for some others it is an indulgence. If you belong to one of the two categories there is every chance that you are possibly ruining your health because sleeping is equally important as eating and breathing! Its simply not the period during which you relax your mind and body breaking away from your daily stressful routine but a critical biological function that’s essential for replenishing important body systems. Each of us follow a specific routine every day that involves waking up, feeling hungry, eating food, doing work and going to sleep repeating the circadian cycles that’s controlled by the body’s internal clocks. Our body clock’s main functioning rests with the brain which basically functions depending on cycles of light and dark. When there is such a dependency, how does our body adjust and accommodate changes to our daily routine in terms of rotational or night shifts?
Services industries, security agencies, doctors, nurses, pilots and drivers provide round the clock service which require them to be awake and alert all through the night. The advent of the IT industry has made people residing in any corner of the world provide support for countries that are in the other end of the globe neglecting time zones. This makes many individuals work on a rotational basis alternating between night shift, morning shift and afternoon shift that’s even worse than regular night shifts. Staying awake through the night or deviating from the natural light cycles imposes health hazards and such prolonged disturbances to circadian rhythm exists as the basis to a number of health problems including obesity, diabetes and metabolism-related issues. We do have evidence also showing that shift workers have shorter life expectancy especially those on a rotational shift basis. A study on nurses (who seem to be ideal candidates as they have varying shifts according to patient requirements) for 22 years revealed that women who worked on rotational night shifts for more than 5 years were up to 11% likelier to have died earlier compared to those who never worked these shifts and those on shift service for more than 15 years had a 38% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to nurses who worked only during the day. Such shift workers were also at a 25% higher risk of dying from lung cancer and 33% greater risk of colon cancer death. Such workers were also heavier than their routine shift counterparts, smoked more to stay alert during the night (which could also contribute to increased lung cancer rates), had high blood pressure, diabetes and elevated cholesterol levels. The latest is that there is a possibility of damage to our DNA when we work night shifts that once again increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases.
Besides health issues, isn’t the social life of night shift people pathetic? They are unable to focus on family and friends, become secluded and frustrated at being unable to attend parties or social gatherings. Despite sleepiness even if you choose to ignore sleep and start attend them, it surely takes a toll on your health in sometime.
Keeping the Body Constantly Under Stress
Sleeping has become a luxury these days with people constantly hovering over smartphones and electronic gadgets. We need 7-8 hours of sleep every night but most of us hardly sleep for more than 6.5 hours a day. Such lack of sleep affects important processes such as inflammation, fat, sugar and immune metabolism which lay the foundation for heart disease or cancer. So, does sleeping for 8 hours a day after doing night shift seem to be much better than lacking enough sleep during the night? Not in any way! Trying to sneak in an extra couple of hours during the night or early morning is more valuable than the 8-9 hours of sleep that’s possible because of the way in which our body has been designed. Our organs don’t function on their own but are running on a pre-programmed genetic pattern that makes them do certain things at one time of day and other things during other times. The cells located in the brain (which is home to our body clock) are the key to our body that functions based on cues from them-when we sleep, when we wake up, when our liver produces enzymes to digest food and regulating heart beat increasing it in the morning when we wake up and restoring it back to its normal rate by evening.
If you ask health experts they are sure to come up with another thousand reasons not to work nightshifts. The food that you eat takes more time to digest and the sugar and fats consumed linger for longer in the bloodstream when compared to daytime this poses a higher threat for obesity risks and other health problems. Research even shows that the cognitive capabilities of nightshift workers diminish-age by almost 6.5 years for 10 years of night shift work done (https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33638905).
Sadly, not all of us are blessed to work regular shifts as job demands are so. So, if you cannot avoid night shifts but have a choice to back away from rotational shifts please do so. Evidence shows that if you can manage to get into a regular 24-hour cycle its better even though it’s not in synchrony with daylight. While exposure to light during the night alters sleep-activity patterns, suppresses melatonin production and dysregulates genes involved in tumor development when you accustom your body to regular night shifts you can always intimidate light with blinds and lamps. Though not 100% useful it still helps you become more comfortable. But quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and screening yourself for cancer risk every once a while helps to minimize the risk of health-related side effects. Maybe in future, we could come up with something that makes us ignore the light/dark cycle.
Why Working at Night Boosts the Risk of Early Death? https://time.com/3657434/night-work-early-death/
Night Shift May Cause DNA Damage: https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/night-shifts-may-cause-dna-damage-study/article26105122.ece
How Night Shifts Perpetuate Health Inequalities: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/10/night-shifts-the-worst/504800/
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