Bad news for men and women who work shifts this week as a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that they were more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack than those who work normal daylight hours.
The report looked at 34 separate studies covering over 2 million people who worked shifts. For the purposes of the study a shift worker is defined as someone who:
- works nights
- works rotating shifts
- works split shifts
- works in any non day-time period
The results of the study show that shift workers have 23% more chance of having a heart attack and 5% more chance if having a stroke.
Why Are Shift Workers More at Risk?
Researchers admit that the reasons for the results are as yet unknown. The study "provides a firm anchor to state that shift work is associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The relationship is probably causal, but it is difficult to say that on the basis of observational studies alone," claims study researcher Daniel G. Hackam, MD, PhD. He is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.
The best guess at the moment seems to that working shifts affects your body’s ability to regulate its natural, twenty-four hour rhythm (known as circadian rhythm or ‘body clock’). Previous studies have looked at the link between working shifts, compromised body clock and heart problems. However much of this has been inconclusive.
The Good News
Despite the findings of the study the results also showed that shift workers were no more likely to die than daytime workers. It also can't be ruled out that certain other factors have not contributed to the results.
What we do know is that if you are a shift worker then you should be extra vigilant when it comes to your heart health. Obviously cutting down on risk factors such as smoking and alcohol can play a part, as well as ensuring you get sufficient exercise.
Getting Good Sleep
It is commonly accepted that shift workers get less sleep than normal day workers and this is also a concern for health. If you have to work nights then to ensure you get plenty of good sleep you need to try and trick your brain into keeping a normal body clock. To do this:
- Buy the darkest sunglasses you can and put them on when going home in morning light.
- Use black out blinds and try and keep your bedroom as dark, cool and quiet as possible.
- When you wake up turn all of the lights on until you have adjusted.
Using these tips can help you manipulate your brain and ensure that the sleep you get is good sleep - a very important factor in health maintenance.
If you want to check out the study you can do so on the BMJ website here:
There is also a good summary here: