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Is working at night bad for you?

Is working at night bad for you?
How much does working in the small hours harm the mind and body? Claudia Hammond investigates the evidence.


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Working night shifts

Working night shifts

Some jobs require night shift work, such as hospitals or 24-hour shops. With planning, it is possible to work all night and still get eight hours of sleep in the day.

While it is possible to get used to night shift, there's evidence that some people find it much harder than others.



Many cannot adjust to night shift

We usually release melatonin in the evening when we start feeling tired and ready for sleep, but when individuals work night shifts, the peak will move to daytime.

However, only 40% of people working nightshift managed to adapt, a Canadian study found. A larger study found that 40 % of people unable to adjust were diagnosed with some sleep disorder.


Consequences of shift work

  • The impact of shift work might be that it is harder to eat healthily. A good meal is harder to find, and you're probably not feeling like a salad when you're trying to keep yourself awake.
  • There is less opportunity for exercise when you've been up all night.
  • Researchers found that pilots who worked the early shift had higher levels of cortisol. In the long-term, high levels of cortisol are associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.
  • Other research found that after three days of night shifts, the expression of genes began to be active at the wrong time of day.
  • After five weeks, people who stayed awake at night and slept during the day showed impaired glucose regulation and changes in metabolism.


Working at night: individuals at risk

Research is not yet able to clarify if there are long-term effects for people who can adapt to night shifts or if there are risks for everyone working shifts.

Until we know more about exactly who is at risk, those who work at night would be wise to eat healthily, exercise, and look out for early signs of these risks.



Your body needs dark too

Your body needs dark too

While we are starting to pay attention to how important sleep is, the need for dark is still mostly ignored.

Being exposed to regular patterns of light and dark regulates our circadian ...

Our sleep and wake patterns

On its own, the circadian rhythm takes almost 24 hours. Our bodies rely on the Sun to reset this cycle and keep it at 24 hours, the length of our days. Light and the dark are important signals for the cycle.

During the night, body temperature drops, metabolism slows, and the hormone melatonin rises dramatically. When the Sun comes up in the morning, melatonin has already started falling, and you wake up.

Our bodies in the dark

During the dark, levels of the hormone leptin (hunger control), go up. This means we do not feel hungry while low levels make us hungry.

Ans research found that sleep disruption and turning on lights lowers leptin levels which makes people hungry in the middle of the night.

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