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Night-Shift Jobs Increase Diabetes Risk

S u m m a r y :
Night-shift jobs have been linked with an increased risk in Type 2 diabetes in a new study published in the journal Diabetes Care.

Consider Shifting to Earlier?

Permanent work shifts and rotating ones are common throughout the world, and the night ones are potentially unhealthy, implies a new research conducted by a team of investigators from CU Boulder. Night is made for humans to rest, so, it makes sense that one should be able to get some sleep when it all goes dark, right? While previous studies have linked such night shifts with diabetes, heart disease, and cancer as well, only few have looked into the way they influence the likelihood of diseases. The new study, on the other hand, links frequent night shifts with a significant increase in the risk to develop Type 2 diabetes: it has found that healthcare workers, security guards together with others from similar professions are more likely to have the condition than workers who work only during daytime; moreover, the more nights the employees work, the higher is the risk, regardless of genetic predisposition.

“Shift work, particularly night shifts, disrupts social and biological rhythms, as well as sleep, and has been suggested to increase the risk of metabolic disorders, including Type 2 diabetes,” said co-first author Celine Vetter. “Our study is one of the first to show a dose-response relationship, where the more often people work nights, the greater their likelihood of having the disease.”

Night Workers: 44% Higher Risk of Diabetes

The team analysed data from over 270,000 participants in the age group 38 to 71 in the UK Biobank. The information collected entailed lifestyle, health status, current work schedules, and their chronotype (that is, whether they were morning or night persons); some of the volunteers also had data about their lifetime employment and genetics collected. Among them, around 7,000 had type 2 diabetes.

The findings show that those working irregular or rotating shifts that incorporated night shifts had a 44% higher risk to have type 2 diabetes than those who never did night shifts. Furthermore, as the number of nights spent working increased, the risk also increased: people working 8 or more nights per month had a 36% greater risk to develop diabetes than day workers.

Night Owls Are Protected

However, being a night owl might help. The results show that people whose current schedule had only night shifts displayed no increased incidence of the disease. The authors suggest that people tolerating night shifts better might be more inclined to choosing night jobs; those working permanent night shifts were 2 times more likely to have the “night person” chronotype. But also, interestingly, this can also change: people working at night might partially adapt to this work condition. On the other hand, a rotating schedule that incorporates both day and night shifts makes it more challenging to adapt, which could result in “chronic misalignment between your light-dark cycle, your sleep-wake schedule, your meal timing, and your physical activity timing,” says Vetter. Previous research indicates that sleep-debt and body-clock misalignment can come with disastrous effects on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, thereby paving the way to diabetes.

What to do if You work Night Shifts?

Is the matter a black-and-white one? Is there no solution? Things do not have to be as gloomy though. Vetter explains that those not able to avoid such shifts can compensate by maintaining a healthy weighty and adhering to healthy diets; additionally, they also have to include sufficient amount of sleep and exercise in their schedule to curb the risk of developing the diseases.

The research is also hoped to help employers cater for the good health of their employees.

“Our study findings represent another puzzle piece in this quest towards healthier work schedule design,” conclude the authors.


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