During my time in undergrad at university, I held many different types of jobs to help pay for my tuition. One of the most difficult positions I held was working at a cardboard manufacturing facility. It wasn’t’ the boredom of cardboard that made the job difficult, it was the shift work.
The facility was open 24 hours per day, and was broken down into 8 hour shifts. Every week the shifts would rotate, for example if you worked the 7am to 3pm shift, the next week you would work the 3pm to 11pm shift. And the week after you would work from 11pm to 7am. As you can imagine, setting a sleeping schedule was impossible. By the time my body became accustomed to the new routine, the week would end and an entire new sleep schedule would begin. This interruption in sleep led to health issues, such as being tired, gaining weight, being more sluggish, and difficulty concentrating. This is when I first learned about the body’s circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm is a natural, 24-hour cycle that regulates many bodily functions, including sleep, metabolism, and hormone production. It is controlled by an internal clock located in the hypothalamus of the brain, which responds to cues from the environment such as light and darkness. When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, it can lead to a range of negative health outcomes, including sleep disorders, fatigue, and increased risk of chronic diseases.
Shift work disrupts the circadian rhythm by requiring workers to be awake and active during hours that would normally be dedicated to sleep. This can lead to a misalignment between the body’s internal clock and external cues from the environment, resulting in a condition known as circadian desynchronization. Studies have shown that circadian desynchronization can lead to a range of negative health outcomes, including decreased cognitive function, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and increased risk of cancer.
One of the most significant effects of shift work on health is its impact on sleep. Studies have shown that shift workers often have shorter and poorer quality sleep than those who work traditional daytime hours. This is due in part to the disruption of the circadian rhythm, but also to other factors such as noisy environments, irregular schedules, and the need to sleep during the day when the body is not naturally inclined to do so.
Poor sleep quality and quantity can have a range of negative health outcomes, including decreased cognitive function, increased risk of accidents, and increased risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, shift work can lead to a condition known as shift work sleep disorder, which is characterized by insomnia and excessive sleepiness during waking hours.
Beyond its impact on sleep, shift work can also have negative effects on overall health. Studies have shown that shift work is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. This may be due to the disruption of the circadian rhythm, which can lead to imbalances in hormone production and metabolism.
Additionally, shift work can lead to social isolation and disruption of social and familial relationships, as shift workers may have difficulty maintaining a regular social schedule or spending time with family and friends. This can lead to increased stress and decreased overall well-being.
Shift work can have significant negative effects on the circadian rhythm, sleep, and overall health of workers. Employers can take steps to mitigate these effects by providing adequate breaks, creating comfortable sleep environments, and allowing for flexible scheduling when possible. Additionally, workers can take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, engaging in physical activity, and eating a healthy diet. By prioritizing health and well-being, both employers and workers can minimize the negative effects of shift work on overall health.
If you or someone you know is suffering from poor sleep, call our clinic for a free sleep consultation with our Naturopathic Doctors. We can be reached at 905-593-1605.
We wish you the best of health!