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Is shift work unhealthy?

According to a report in Time Magazine, shift work ages the brain by 7 years. That’s a frightening fact for those of us who do shift work – but should we be worried? And how can we stay healthy when working shifts?

Shift work ages the brain

Let’s get this scary study out of the way! Published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, the study assessed more than 3000 people who worked shifts. All shift workers studied did worse on cognitive and memory tests than non-shift workers.
And it appeared that the longer someone worked shifts, the more significant their cognitive deficits.
Of course, the question is – why does shift work affect the brain in this way? Scientists believe it’s because shift work interrupts the circadian rhythms in the body – our natural clock. They also believe night workers miss out on vitamin D during the day.

Shift works disrupts gene activity

Another study has revealed that working nights can disrupt gene activity. Yes, it actually damages our bodies at the “deepest molecular level” according to a BBC report.
Again, it goes back to our circadian rhythms, which tell us to sleep at night and wake in the day, and regulate our hormones, brain functions, and even our mood.
Dr Simon Archer, one of the researchers at the University of Surrey, said "Over 97% of rhythmic genes become out of sync with mistimed sleep and this really explains why we feel so bad during jet lag, or if we have to work irregular shifts.”

Other health effects of working shifts:

Numerous other studies have linked shift work to higher rates of heart attack, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Some even report that night workers are more likely to have a heart attack than day workers.
Shift work has also been connected with an increased risk of obesity, mood changes, gastrointestinal disorders, and relationship issues including divorce.
So what’s the solution? As with all studies, these shouldn’t be taken as gospel that working shifts will adversely affect your health. However, they do serve as a warning that working nights in the long term could cause issues. If you’re worried about your work hours impacting your health, speak to a reputable health expert. It’s also wise to have a full health check to test your vitamin and mineral levels and other vitals; then you can ensure you are giving your body to nutrients it needs to counteract poor sleep. Meditation may also help with circadian rhythms and getting back into balance.

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