Shift work gnaws away at health, research says

Posted at 12:03 PM, May 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-18 14:58:01-04

The late shift isn’t just eating your soul as the fluorescent lamps gently drive you insane.

According to research, it’s messing with your lead — I mean your health.

People who work outside of more typical schedules are more likely to be overweight, have sleep disorders and are more likely to develop metabolic disorders like diabetes.

The demand for a 24/7 society will only increase pressure for flexible and nontraditional schedules, said a study published Monday in Sleep Health, the journal of the American Sleep Foundation.

"Shiftwork employees are particularly vulnerable to experiencing sleep problems, as their jobs require them to work night, flex, extended, or rotating shifts," said lead researcher Marjory Givens of the the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

About 15 million Americans work an irregular shift schedule, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shift workers are more often men, minorities and people with lower amounts of education.

They most commonly work in hospitals, production or shipping industries.

For the study, researchers examined the health records of more than 1,500 people. Shift workers were 30 percent more likely to be overweight compared to those on a normal schedule. Nearly half were overweight.

Shift workers also experienced more insomnia, insufficient sleep, sleepiness. The researchers found that much of the weight difference can be explained by the sleep problems.

Several causes might be at work to reduce health. Working an off schedule may disrupt the circadian rhythm, which affects metabolic regulation. It can get in the way of healthier family meals and make it harder to participate in sports.

Workers should smack down that late night honeybun, too. They may be eating high energy foods to stay alert.

Getting better sleep does seem alleviate some symptoms — but not all of them. For best results, you might need a 9-to-5 job.

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk.