Heart attack risk and risk of stroke have both been tied to shift work, one of the latest health complications to be linked with alternative circadian rhythms in a new study.
Shift work has been coming in under scrutiny in recent months due to a spate of studies linking the night shift to chronic and dangerous sleep deprivation, obesity, depression and other negative health consequences. But it appears that while many of those consequences don’t translate directly to a palpable, describable health outcome, a new study might make many shift workers sit up and take notice of the possible consequences of working at night.
Of course, we will always need cops and hospital workers, and someone has to man the McDonald’s fryers at 4AM, lest drunk people starve — but the cost of shift work is not just to your social life, as increased heart attack risk and stroke risk may result.
A meta-review of 34 studies on shift work revealed the heightened heart attack risk — 23% higher for shift workers, along with a 5% higher risk of stroke. Steven H. Feinsilver, MD is the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, and Feinsilver says that sleep disruption has many reasons, with shift work being just one cause.
Feinsilver acknowledges many people who do shift work and have increased risk of heart attack need to keep the lights on like the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean that risk can’t be mitigated:
“The findings add to a growing body of literature that bad sleep is bad for you. And one of the forms of bad sleep is [related to] shift work… If you are going to work nights, get the darkest, best sunglasses you can find for going home in the morning so you avoid exposure to natural light.”
To reduce heart attack risk and mitigate other shift work health effects, experts also recommend night shift workers make a stronger effort to eat healthily, quit smoking and get regular exercise.