Night shift work is required in many professions, but are you aware that this kind of schedule may have dire consequences on your health? Working at night not only disrupts your body clock, but also puts you at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a study on nurses, and observed that a woman’s risk of type 2 diabetes increases depending on how many years she has worked the night shift.
According to a report in PLoS Medicine:
“The increase in type 2 diabetes risk associated with night shift work ranged from 5% in nurses who’d worked that schedule for one or two years to 58% in those who’d done so for at least 20 years.” (link)
Dr. Joseph Mercola warns: “It is vital to understand that when you regularly shift your sleep patterns, you are in fact seriously compromising your health and longevity—in more ways than one.”
Working the Night Shift Disrupts Your Circadian Rhythm
The 24-hour circadian rhythm is a built-in tracking system that governs the physiological functions of almost all organisms. When late-night artificial light exposure disrupts your circadian rhythm, your physical and mental health and well-being may be severely affected.
The release of metabolic hormones, which regulate hunger and satiety, is affected by your circadian rhythm. When you are sleep- deprived, the leptin production in your body decreases. Leptin is the hormone that informs your brain that you need to stop eating. At the same time, the levels of ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger, increases. These changes prompt you to eat more and gain weight, therefore leading to an increased diabetes risk.
In addition, irregular sleep-wake cycles also interfere with your body’s blood-sugar metabolism. This causes insulin resistance and increased blood-sugar levels, which are both associated with diabetes.
Past research also says that circadian rhythm disruption also impairs your pancreas’ ability to produce insulin, a factor that may also increase your diabetes risk.
Getting Insufficient Sleep at Night Makes You Miss Out on This Important Hormone
Exposure to light and darkness controls your body’s sleeping functions.
“Inside your hypothalamus is a group of cells called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), which controls your biological clock by responding to light. Light reaches your SCN via your eye’s optic nerve, where it tells your biological clock it’s time to wake up. Light also causes your SCN to initiate other processes associated with being awake, such as raising your body temperature and producing hormones, like cortisol,” explains Dr. Mercola.
On the other hand, melatonin production occurs when insufficient light reaching your SCN. This helps you sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you sleep. It is secreted in your brain by your pineal gland at night, with the absence of light. This is why sleeping in pitch-black darkness is very important.
Melatonin is also an antioxidant that helps suppress harmful free radicals in your system. It also slows the production of estrogen, which may potentially increase your cancer risk. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, you will have insufficient melatonin production, which may lead to health problems like:
- Reduced ability to fight cancer
- Decreased free radical scavenging
- Increased osteoporosis risk
- Accelerated cancer cell proliferation and tumor growth
- Blood pressure instability
- Decreased immune function
- Diabetic microangiopathy (capillary damage)
- Increased plaques in the brain, like those in people with Alzheimer’s disease
How to Get Sufficient Sleep Even If You Work at Night
Dr. Mercola says that if you are working the night shift, you must try to switch your hours or at least reduce your night shift duty to just two times a month. This gives your body sufficient time to readjust in between. If it is really necessary that you go on night shift duty, Dr. Mercola recommends sticking to a consistent schedule. This allows your body to adjust to your sleep-wake cycle. It is less damaging than constantly changing shifts.
When you sleep during the day, make it a point to create a dark environment. Dr. Mercola says you should try making your bedroom pitch-black to ensure melatonin production. Install blackout drapes and remove electrical appliances and gadgets that emit light.
Dr. Mercola also says that you should avoid watching TV or using electronics for about an hour prior to going to bed (whether in the morning or at night), because it stimulates to your brain and makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep. Instead, soothe and relax your mind by washing your face, reading a calming book, sipping an herbal tea, or meditating.
For more useful tips on getting healthy sleep, read Dr. Joseph Mercola’s 33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.