If you’ve ever thought working the graveyard shift sounded like the least appetizing schedule imaginable, you’re not alone. I for one would much rather wake up at 6 a.m. and work until 3 if it meant I could have my precious evening hours to myself.
Now there’s more reason to loathe the night shift: it’s been linked to higher risk of heart attack, stroke, early aging and other serious health conditions, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.
In the largest study of its kind, researchers collected data from 34 previous studies on the topic of work shift and heart health. From a combined total of 2 million participants worldwide, researchers gathered that atypical shift workers are at a 23 percent greater risk of heart attacks, 5 percent greater risk of stroke,and 24 percent greater risk of all coronary events than their 9-5 Monday-Friday counterparts. These workers also saw higher death rates overall.
Researchers considered those who worked any shift outside of ‘normal daytime hours,’ including evening, night and extremely early morning shifts, as well as split shifts, on call hours and other atypical working hours.
While the reason behind these findings isn’t clear, researchers speculate that atypical work shifts can break up proper sleep cycles and also lead to insomnia, which has been found to be a risk factor for heart attacks. Shortened sleep cycles have also been shown to adversely affect obesity genes and make it more difficult to control our weight.
Another reason may be that these shifts cause more stress, as irregular schedules can make it more difficult for people to schedule normal everyday life activities around their children, spouses, etc. And stress, as we know, has been an indicator of other serious health problems including depression, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, ulcers and sexual dysfunction.
In another related study, researchers found that stress from work can even have damaging effects on critical DNA in our cells, which is something that can lead to early aging and other serious health conditions. Researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that people with job stress tend to have shorter DNA sections called telomeres, which is especially concerning as shorter telomeres have been linked with Parkinson’s, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.
While other factors besides work can cause stress, including relationships, finances and health issues, ours jobs are something we spend so much time doing that it almost becomes crucial that ensure it’s a pleasant environment.
As one researcher, Aoife O’Donovan, said, “When you get a high enough dose of stress, hardly anyone is resilient. People can be resilient to one or two types of stressors in certain periods of time, but once it becomes cumulative, across domains, it’s rare to find resilient people.”
In other words, try to eliminate as much stress from your life as possible, be it by focusing on maintaining healthy relationships, taking care of your individual health, practicing yoga for peace of mind, or finding a work schedule that’s conducive to your natural lifestyle. Doing so may drastically improve your overall health.