Shift Workers More Likely To Have Heart Problems

By Amir Khan on July 27, 2012 9:31 AM EDT

Sleeping
Late night shift workers are more likely to have heart issues or a stroke compared to their coworkers who work the day shift, according to a new study, published in the British Medical Journal (Photo: Reuters / Luke Macgregor)

Late night shift workers are more likely to have heart issues or a stroke compared to their coworkers who work the day shift, according to a new study, published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers found that late night shift work can disrupt the body clock and affect a worker's lifestyle.

"Night shift workers are up all the time and they don't have a defined rest period. They are in a state of perpetual nervous system activation which is bad for things like obesity and cholesterol," Dan Hackam, study coauthor and associate professor at Western University, London Ontario in Canada, told BBC News.

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Researchers analyzed more than 2 million workers and found that shift workers were at an increased risk for cardiac events. In total, there were more than 17,000 coronary events, including nearly 7,000 heart attacks. Late night shift workers were more likely to suffer from one of these events than day-shift workers.

Overall, shift work was linked to a 23 percent increased risk of heart attack, 24 percent risk of a coronary event, and a 5 percent increased risk of stroke.

But that's not the only issue that can arise from late night shift work.

"Insufficient sleep can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences for fatigued workers and others around them," CDC investigators wrote in a recent report. "An estimated 20 percent of vehicle crashes are linked to drowsy driving."

Sleep deprivation gives workers afternoon crashes of sleepiness, and also impacts their long-term health such as increased risk for diabetes and heart disease, experts said.

"The modern condition of excess work, excess pressure, no sleep -- all this disruption -- we can't adapt well to it metabolically," Dr. Orfeu Buxton, study author and sleep researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told WebMD. "This is a maladaptive response to modern life."

The trouble is that many workers do not make sleep a priority, Shelby Freedman Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Montefiore Medical Center, told HealthDay.

"Despite these consequences, many people still don't find the time for adequate sleep, with many having trouble with insomnia and not seeking proper help," she said. "What is also important is making sure you have enough time between shifts to obtain a full night's sleep -- something many companies don't necessarily allow for."

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