The profound effect working night shifts can have on your body

If you’ve ever worked night shifts, you don’t need to see any scientific studies to know that it’s bad for your health as well as your mood. However, a new study has shown just how much working these unnatural hours can impact your body.

In a study carried out by researchers from Washington State University, scientists looked at healthy volunteers between the ages of 22 and 34. They subjected some of them to simulated night shifts and others to simulated day shifts to assess their impact. The first group was allowed to sleep from 10 PM to 6 AM every night, while the others had to stay awake for three nights in a row, sleeping only from 10 AM to 6 PM.

Throughout the following 24 hours, the participants’ blood was drawn every three hours and analyzed. The scientists looked at their levels of 132 different metabolites. The researchers found that working three night shifts in a row shifted the body’s master clock by an average of two hours. However, it had a profound impact on the digestive system’s clock, throwing its natural cycle off by 12 hours.

Many people are familiar with the body’s central master clock in the brain that uses cues like ambient light to control when you wake up and fall asleep. However, other organs work on their own biological clocks, and the digestive system is one of them.

The scientists were shocked by the finding. They knew that organs’ biological clocks can grow out of sync with the brain’s master clock, but the extent to which this happened, in such as short amount of time, was nothing short of shocking.

The director of the university’s Sleep and Performance Research Center, Hans Van Dongen, said: “When we looked at the data, we saw the massive twelve-hour shifts. We were like, ‘Wow, we did not see that coming’.”

They also found that the night shifts disrupted the rhythms of metabolites that are associated with chronic kidney disease.

Poor sleep linked to disease

Past research has found a link between shift work and problems like diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders that increase a person’s risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease. The researchers believe that these findings will help them learn more about the damage that shift work causes. The results can serve as a springboard for new studies to devise ways to minimize the negative impacts of mistimed sleep and meals.

For example, the researchers believe that it may be possible to set meal times in a way that minimizes the effects that shift work has on people’s health. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

If you don’t work night shift, you’re not out of the woods. A different recent study showed that missing even one night of sleep can weaken your body and lead to a greater risk of obesity. Swedish researchers showed that a single night of bad sleep switches on the genes in fatty tissue that raise your body’s ability to store fat and are linked to Type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, the importance of getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis is often overlooked by doctors today. Many are in the habit of writing prescriptions for whatever ails their patients while ignoring the bigger picture. A holistic approach to health is ideal as it considers not only physical symptoms but also the effects of sleep, diet, lifestyle, and mindset on your overall health and well-being.

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