Shift Work: How does the resetting of the body clock affect our health?

While you won’t hear it ticking, your body clock naturally follows a 24-hour cycle of wakefulness and sleepiness which in turn is naturally linked to nature’s patterns of light and darkness. When this cycle is disrupted by shift work, it is not easily rebalanced or reset.

Shift workers may find that it takes up to one full week to adjust fully to changes in their sleep schedule. When the natural sleep pattern is disturbed due to a fluctuating work schedule it disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm or one’s body clock. This disturbance often leads to under sleeping, oversleeping or restless sleep because the body is not fully committed to shutting down at the anticipated time as well as not having a sense for when it should be waking up.

The body’s natural rhythm operates at its best with 7 – 8 hours of continuous sleep. Studies have shown that if the sleep pattern is disrupted or too often altered, the body no longer has the necessary time to restore energy supplies and for the human brain to function optimally.

There are many health risks associated with shift work and these can affect workers of all ages and both genders. Because the natural body clock has been altered and sleep patterns are not consistent, one becomes sleep deprived. Lack of sufficient sleep causes one to be less alert, irritable, stressed and depressed. Persistent sleep debt throughout a week will result in increased daytime sleepiness and degradation of performance in cognitive and hand-eye coordination and reaction times.

According to the American Sleep Association, employees working in shift worker positions for more than 10 years have shown drastically increased rates of heart disease and gastrointestinal disease. This can mean as high as a 300% increase in the instance rates of the diseases compared to the general populace.

Since the sleep cycle affects the secretion of the hormone Leptin which regulates the metabolism, weight and appetite are directly influenced. Studies have shown that sleep deficits can impair the body’s processing of sugar glucose which may put shift workers at greater risk for type II diabetes.

Bottom line, our body clock not only regulates but it is a command center for maintaining our health and wellness.

In the long-term, employees working in shift worker positions for more than 10 years have shown drastically increased rates of heart disease and gastrointestinal disease, diabetes type 2, depression and bipolar disorder.