In the United States, there are millions of workers who spend their nights on the job. From emergency service personnel like paramedics, nurses, and police officers, to those in the hospitality, retail, and food service industries, as well as transportation and utility workers, and those in factories and warehouses that operate around the clock to produce or distribute goods.
However, working overnight shifts can have profound effects on the health of these workers, making it difficult for them to maintain a work-life balance. Studies have shown that persistent circadian rhythm disruption and night work can be significant risk factors for a range of health conditions, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and depression. The evidence continues to mount, highlighting the serious risks that come with working through the night.
Researchers utilized the UK Biobank to study 53,211 workers between 2006 and 2018 to determine whether they had a genetic inclination towards “eveningness.” The objective of the study was to investigate the relationship between night work and sleep quality.
The study discovered that individuals who frequently work night shifts are subjected to significant sleep penalties, with the greatest effects observed among those who work nights on a regular basis. The researchers noted that sleep is critical to both physical and mental well-being.
Furthermore, the CHRONO research team found that individuals who worked night shifts more frequently generally slept less. Self-reported data indicated that regular night shift workers slept an average of 13 minutes less per night than those who did not work overnight hours. However, the study demonstrated that having a higher genetic propensity for “eveningness” provided a strong protective effect, lowering the sleep penalty by up to 28%.
The lead senior author, Professor Melinda Mills, clarified that the study utilized a Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS) of eveningness, which enabled them to measure an individual’s genetic inclination towards being an evening person.
Meanwhile, the lead author, Dr. Evelina Akimova, expressed excitement over the use of multiple measures of eveningness, including genetic, self-reported, and accelerometer data, which enhanced their understanding of sleep penalties in night shift workers.
Professor Mills emphasized that the health implications of working night shifts differ among individuals based on their chronotype, and this should be taken into account when developing interventions to address the issue. The study’s findings highlight the importance of recognizing the diversity of workers’ biological makeup when designing strategies to improve their health and well-being.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Sleep.
Image Credit: Getty