Night shift work can impact your circadian rhythm by making you operate in a way that is “unnatural” to your sleep-wake cycle. A recent study has reported that people who work night shifts are at an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation and heart disease. The study further reported that among the night shift workers, women who are physically inactive are at the highest risk.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is characterized by irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related ailments.
Generally, the chambers of the heart work in coordination to pump the blood. However, in AF, the two upper chambers of the heart (right auricle and left auricle) beat chaotically and out of coordination with the two lower chambers (right and left ventricle) of the heart.
Some common symptoms associated with AF include :
- Pain in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Fast heart rate or palpitations
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Night Shift And Heart Disease
Night shift workers, on average, get two to three hours less sleep than other workers. They often sleep through the day in two split periods; a few hours in the morning and then around an hour before starting the night shift.
It’s challenging to keep the sleep environment dark, free of noise, and relatively calm. A person working the night shift is at greater risk of various health conditions due to the disrupted circadian rhythm.
Researchers suggest that working the night shift may lead to hormonal and metabolic changes, which can increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Further, studies report that circadian misalignment results in a drop in levels of the weight-regulating hormone leptin. This can increase heart disease risk by prompting an increase in appetite.
The Study: Night Shift Work and Heart Problems
The study included 286,353 people who were in paid employment or self-employed.
The study cohort was divided into:
- 283,657 did not have AF when they enrolled (out of which genetic information was available for 193,819)
- 276,009 did not have heart failure or stroke (out of which employment history information was provided by 73,896)
- 75,391 who answered a questionnaire about their lifetime employment in 2015
- 5,777 who developed AF in a follow-up time of over ten years
The researchers adjusted their analyses for several factors like age, sex, ethnicity, education, socio-economic status, diet, smoking, body mass index, sleep duration, and chronotype that could alter the risk of developing AF.
The researchers, therefore, adjusted these risk factors.
The following were observed in the study:
- People who are currently working night shifts have a 12 % increased risk of developing AF.
- For those who had a lifetime duration of night shifts, the risk increased to 18% after ten or more years.
- People who worked night shifts three to eight times a month for ten years have a 22% increased risk of developing AF.
- The risk of coronary heart disease for the above three groups was 22%, 37%, and 35%, respectively.
The study further revealed two more interesting findings.
- Women had a 64% increased risk of developing AF than men when they worked night shifts for ten or more years.
- People who performed 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activities or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activities per week had a lower risk of developing AF.
How To Work The Night Shift and Stay Healthy
Avoid Caffeine Close to Bedtime
Caffeine inhibits your body’s ability to feel sleepy. So, avoid food and drink containing caffeine at least 4 hours before your bedtime.
Maintain A Sleep-Conducive Environment In Your Bedroom
Light exposure can activate all the processes in your body associated with wakefulness, making it difficult for you to fall asleep. Use blackout curtains or blinds that can help block the light entry.
Shift work has been associated with an increased risk of metabolic disorders. Limit sugar intake and increase protein intake. Eating small, frequent meals can also help maintain your metabolic health.
Avoid daytime exercising when on shift work, as it can promote wakefulness. But, make sure to adopt a consistent exercise routine as this can help lower the risk for heart disease.
- Atrial fibrillation is a condition characterized by an irregular and often rapid heart rate.
- A recent study explored the link between night shift work and atrial fibrillation.
- According to the study, people who worked night shifts over an extended period have an increased risk of atrial fibrillation than the day workers.
- Among shift workers, women who are not physically active seem to have the highest risk for Atrial Fibrillation.
- Following a healthy diet, good sleep hygiene, and a consistent workout routine can help maintain your health when on a night shift job.
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