Are Regular Night Shifts Killing You?

Night shifts in many professions, especially the medical profession, require staying awake to work throughout the night. Many companies, through trying to increase sales or provide 24 hours security around the facility keep employing more people whose work hours fall during night hours. 

The problem with this is that working at night and sleeping during the day for an extended period of time has a negative impact on one’s health. In this article, we discuss what these negative health impacts are and what healthy precautions can be taken by people who work night shifts.

The Negative Effects of Working Night Shifts

Effects on the Heart

Studies have shown that there is a relationship between working night shift and developing heart related disorders such as hypertension, ischemic heart disease etc. This association is based on the premise that people that work night shifts over time are less likely to be able to participate in healthy practices that protect the heart. Working long hours during the night most times mean that the entire part of the day is spent sleeping. This also might result in eating heavy meals at night that might influence cholesterol levels. The metabolic impacts of working at night can also result in obesity which is a risk factor for heart related diseases. The culmination of all these factors is what places might shift workers at risk of heart related diseases.

Effects on Metabolic Health

The hormone leptin which can be referred to as the “thinning hormone” is usually produced during nocturnal sleep (night sleep). It is also very essential for regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. Working during the night and sleeping during the day disrupts the production of leptin in the body and places people at risk of several metabolic disorders. 

Night shift workers are usually at risk of metabolic disorders. These metabolic disorders include obesity, elevated bad cholesterol levels, elevated blood glucose and elevated blood pressure. Metabolic disorders are dangerous to the health as they can result in heart related diseases and diabetes.

Effect on Gastrointestinal (GIT) Health

Eating habits have a great impact on gastrointestinal health. Night shift workers tend to develop unhealthy eating patterns that can result in an increased frequency of gastrointestinal disorders. Eating a high fat and carbohydrate diet, frequent snacking, and night eating are all majorly characteristic of night shift workers’ eating habits. They tend to experience more GIT disorders such as frequent heartburns, indigestion, constipation, ulcers and irritable bowel disease.

Effect on Melatonin Production and Mental Health

Melatonin is a hormone that controls the sleep and wake rhythms of the body. In animals, melatonin is usually released at night to facilitate restful sleep. The disruption of circadian rhythm in night shift workers reduces the level of production of melatonin. This results in inability to achieve deep and restful sleep and might result in prolonged sleep deprivation. 

Sleep deprivation negatively impacts mental health by resulting in prolonged fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability and nervousness.

Effect on Bone Health

Vitamin D is very essential for calcium absorption and bone health. Vitamin D can be gotten from some food items, but it is majorly gotten from sunlight. Night shift workers that sleep during the day get exposed to very little sunlight over time and this can impact on vitamin D and calcium levels. This can result in weak bones, bone pain and muscle weakness which is referred to as osteomalacia

Healthy Precautions for Night Shift Workers

Avoid scattered night shifts 

It is easier for the body to adapt if a night shift routine is being maintained for a period of time. A back-and-forth routine of alternating between morning and night shifts within a week can be more dangerous to the health. Cluster your night shifts into a particular time period of a week or month depending on the work requirements.

Maintaining Healthy Sleep Hygiene

Working night shifts already places one at risk of sleep deprivation. Ensure to make the best of the hours available for sleep. Turning off lights or wearing eye masks, not using mobile devices at least one hour before going to bed, placing your mobile devices on “do not disturb” can help to guarantee a more restful sleep. 

Healthy Eating and Hydration 

As discussed above, the eating habits of night shifts workers tend to be unhealthier. Eating a balanced and healthy diet goes a long way to protect the health. Snacking should be significantly cut down and sugary snacks replaced with more healthy choices such as fruits and nuts. Diets with more proteins and fibers as opposed to high fats or high carbohydrate diets will also go a long way to maintain the GIT health.

Likewise, It is essential to take at least eight glasses of water a day. This is in order to maintain overall body health and most importantly the kidney, brain and GIT health.

Include exercise in your routine

Getting to exercise as a person who works at night might seem almost impossible. Thirty minutes of exercise daily can be added to your routine by working out just before going to work or just before going to sleep. Exercise helps to improve the cardiovascular health and reduces the risk of heart related diseases

Don’t rely on Caffeine

To maintain alertness during the night, many shift workers resort to taking caffeine especially at higher doses. Taking too high doses of caffeine can increase anxiety and nervousness and negatively impact sleep hygiene. Caffeine levels should be cut down significantly and rather frequent naps during the shift should be encouraged for shift workers

A word from Healthfacts

Working night shifts might be unavoidable for some people. However, it is essential to take healthy precautions to prevent the decline of one’s health as a result of prolonged shift work. Sticking to the healthy guides above will help to achieve a balance between working shifts and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.


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