Dr Nityanand Tripathi – Director and Unit Head – Cardiology and Electrophysiology
In a present industrialized world with a commitment for twenty-four by seven availability of services and support, shift work has become prevalent in other sectors apart from emergency service. Work pattern that typically extends beyond 8 hours of work per day and affects the social and biological diurnal rhythm of employees is usually classified as shift work. If your job involves displaced work hours, rotating shifts, or unscheduled work hours, you are a shift worker. Rotating night shifts are particularly disruptive for sleep, wakefulness, eating patterns, and social activities. Rotating night shifts also are associated with reduced job-related performance and higher levels of perceived stress.
Shift workers suffer more frequently from cardiovascular disease, diabetes Mellitus, gastrointestinal disease, phycological disorders, cancer- particularly breast cancer, and adverse reproductive outcomes. A significant number of research papers pours the evidence of the increased possibility of heart diseases in shift workers, including heart attack and hypertension. In addition, researchers have also found a strong correlation between shift work and smoking, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and the development of diabetes Mellitus, which are linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases.
One of the studies involving nurses working in shift duty with longer duration of rotating night shift work was associated with a statistically significant (27%) higher relative risk of coronary heart disease. This risk increase was even in women who did not have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, indicating that something else is raising the risk of heart disease. It was postulated to be related to disrupted biological rhythms. However, the study also found that the above harmful effect wears off after quitting the night shift.
Apart from increased cardiovascular risk, the above studies have also found that the long night work hours were associated with more weight gain and improved glucose intolerances. In addition, they were more likely to smoke, less likely to have children, and used more painkillers.
A similar result has been found by other studies as well. Therefore the shift workers need to be more watchful and careful towards their heath. They should be vigilant for specific physiological changes like decreased glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, elevated cortisol levels, and increased sympathetic nervous system activity symptoms. To achieve this objective, they should periodically undergo structured health check-ups to detect the physiological changes at the earliest. The organizations where employees work in shifts need to evolve a more health-centric plan to reduce the impact of working hours on their health. Some of the valuable strategies to be suggested in this regard include improving the design of work schedules, promoting breaks during the work shift, conducting periodic assessments, using policies and systems that reduce the risk of fatigue, and promoting a positive psychological work environment.