Working a rotating shift that includes both nights and days is tough on many levels, as you’ve probably heard from sleep-deprived friends who do it. Now a new study reveals yet another concern with this increasingly common type of work schedule—an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Researchers combed the data on 177,184 US women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study, analyzing age, weight, diet, exercise habits and work schedules…and tracking who got diabetes during the two-decade study period. For the study, a rotating night shift was defined as working three or more nights per month in addition to working some days and evenings in that same month.
Results: Compared with women who did not work rotating night shifts, those who worked such shifts for three to nine years were 20% more likely to develop diabetes. The risk for diabetes rose 40% when rotating night shifts were worked for 10 to 19 years…risk rose 58% with 20 or more years of such work. Explanation: Rotating shift work disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm, elevating blood glucose and insulin levels as well as increasing blood pressure and reducing sleep efficiency.
Self-defense for rotating night-shift workers: Diabetes can be deadly, so be sure that your doctor is aware of your work schedule. Discuss an appropriate schedule for screening for diabetes. And immediately alert your doctor if you develop any possible warning signs of the disease (excessive thirst, increased urination, blurred vision). Also, remember that lifestyle changes—adopting a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, losing excess weight—go a long way in guarding against the development of diabetes.
Source: Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, MPH, is a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston. He also is coauthor of a study on shift work and diabetes published in PLoS Medicine.