Side effects of night shifts on health

In India, about six million people work on shifts, whether they have a night job or rotating shifts during the week. For many, it has become a way of life, for some it is about their careers and for others it is a financial necessity. But there's a growing sense that shift work could be taking a serious toll on their health. As per reports, there is strong evidence that shift work is related to a number of serious health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Shift work is also linked to stomach problems and ulcers, depression and an increased risk of accidents or injury.

Problems that are faced by people working on shifts:

People who work outside of normal daytime hours, including evening shifts, night shifts, extended hours or overtime, and those who work rotating shifts or swing shifts are at increased risk for shift work disorder and other sleeping disorders.

Sleep apnea, abnormal hormone levels and psychological disorders like depression can increase symptoms of shift work disorder. Lifestyle choices and the responsibilities of family life also can contribute to symptoms.

Photo Courtesy: Newsweek

Chronic shift work disorder can cause high blood pressure, heart diseases and digestive problems. People with the disorder often have difficulty functioning, which can lead to relationship problems, decreased productivity and job loss, and psychological disorders like depression.

Gastrointestinal symptoms like upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, constipation and heartburn, increased risk of injuries and accidents, insomnia, decreased the quality of life and a general feeling of being unwell.

  • Problems with fertility and pregnancy - Research has shown that shift work can affect a woman's reproductive system. One study looked at flight attendants, who typically work in shifts. The results showed that flight attendants who worked during pregnancy were twice as likely to have a miscarriage as flight attendants who did not. Shift work also seems to be associated with an increase the risk of complications during delivery, premature and low-weight babies, fertility problems, endometriosis, irregular periods, and painful periods.
  • Cancer - Two analyses of data from different studies found that night work increased the risk of breast cancer by 50 per cent. Working shifts on aeroplanes, like pilots and flight attendants do, increased the risk by 70 per cent. There's evidence that shift work might increase the risk of colorectal and prostate cancer as well.
  • Cardiovascular disease - For decades, researchers have seen an association between shift work and the risk of heart attacks and heart disease. One review of the research found that shift work seems to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease by 40 per cent. In general, the risks seem to grow the longer a person continues to work nights. One analysis found that the risk of stroke increased by 5 per cent for every five years a person performed shift work. However, the stroke risks rose only after a person performed shift work for 15 years.
  • Obesity - There are several possible reasons for the link between obesity and shift work. Poor diet and lack of exercise might be part of the problem. Hormone balance seems to be important too. The hormone leptin plays a key role in regulating our appetite. It helps make us feel full. Since shift work seems to lower the levels of leptin, it could be that night workers might feel hungrier and thus eat more than day workers.