The negative effects caused by working at night in the human body

The negative effects caused by working at night in the human body

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It’s been 16 hours since Tracey Loscar, a paramedic from Alaksa, is working. Your shift lasts 24 hours. He makes four of these shifts a week and has been working at night for 17 years.

“We joke by saying that the first day you arrive ready to eat the world, and when the fourth day arrives, you are ready to burn it,” he says.

“I like the rhythm of the night, there are fewer people on the street, the calls are varied, the patterns are different and there are fewer open businesses.” But the night also has its risks.

“The night is more dangerous on several fronts,” he explains, “if your capacity for reaction or observation is a little slower, the risks increase when you’re working, it’s overwhelming.”

Millions of people work at night all over the world.

There are few official statistics, but according to a study by Princeton University in the United States, between 7% and 15% of the workforce in industrialized countries participates in some form of night work.

The World Health Organization considers night shifts as a possible cause of cancer because they interrupt circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythm

But how did the night shifts come about?

“Since the production of the first commercial lamps of Thomas Edison we had the ability to invade the night at low cost, and the dream was the first victim,” explains Russell Foster, sleep expert and professor at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom. .

Doctor doing a night shift.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption Working at night increases stress levels, experts say.

“The key problem is that we have this internal biological clock that is programmed based on the external world , as a result of exposure to the light / dark cycle .”

Night workers are exposed to low levels of light during their shift, the researcher explains, but when they encounter bright natural light upon returning to their homes, the internal clock accommodates the normal light / dark pattern that governs the life of the worker. the day workers.

“That’s why they have to constantly ignore this kind of biological impulse of their watch that tells them they should be sleeping.”

(Those who work at night) have to constantly ignore this kind of biological impulse of their watch that tells them that they should be sleeping

Russell Foster, Professor at the University of Oxford

And it does not matter if you’re working regularly at night, he adds, unless you can completely hide from the light once you’re finished working and the light of day is out.

Effects on health

But what physical effects do night shifts have on your body?

Foster notes that ignoring the biological clock causes the “stress axis” to activate , which is the way your body reacts in a situation called fight or flight.

“We are injecting glucose into the circulation, increasing blood pressure, positioning ourselves in a state of alert to deal with a potential threat and the situation is not that, we are only working,” Foster argues.

Staff night shift.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption In some trades, night shifts can also be more dangerous.

The scientist warns that sustained levels of stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, or metabolic abnormalities such as type 2 diabetes. Stress can also inhibit the immune system , which can lead to high levels of colorectal and breast cancer.

Those are the long-term effects, but evidently, the lack of sleep also affects us in the short term.

The most obvious effects are feeling tired , understanding information incorrectly , not understanding the signs of nonverbal behavior of others and the loss of empathy.

Healthy food

“We are not going to lock the genius of work 24 hours a day, 7 hours a week again in his bottle,” says Foster. But he cautions that companies whose employees do night shifts should prepare to receive future demands if they do not show that they are taking all possible measures to try to mitigate some of the problems associated with night work.

In addition to implementing more regular health checks for workers, he says, they should make sure to offer them nutritious meals during their shift (such as fruit, for example) to avoid the risks of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

We are not going to lock the genius of work 24 hours a day, 7 hours a week, again in his bottle “

Russell Foster, Professor at the University of Oxford

Anyone who has worked during the night knows that it is not easy to get healthy food.

Research suggests that carbohydrate consumption can rise between 35% and 40% after just four or five days of restricted sleep, due to the increase in the level of a hormone called ghrelin.

This hormone makes us feel hungry and encourages us to consume foods with sugar and carbohydrates.

“Ultimately, it’s not good for obesity or conditions like type 2 diabetes,” says Foster.

Economic cost

The lack of sleep not only has a cost for health, but also an economic one, says Marco Hafner, an economist at the Rand Europe research institute.

“In the UK, we find that lack of sleep costs the economy about US $ 54 billion a year,” he says, “this represents about 1.8% of UK GDP, a mixture of lost productivity and effects of mortality . “

Staff night shift.Copyright of theGETTY IMAGESimage
Image captionOne of the long-term consequences of working at night may be the emergence of metabolic or cardiovascular diseases.

Are governments paying attention to this problem in terms of their public policies?

According to Hafner, it is still very early, but “we know that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (in the US) has analyzed the problem and has determined that sleep insufficiency is a public health epidemic .”

“There is increasing awareness that lack of sleep is a public health problem,” he adds.

Convenience

Why do it then? If there is so much evidence about the health risks of doing night shifts, why put yourself at risk?

Many people have no other choice , and paramedic Loscar points out that doing so has its benefits.

“The schedules we have now work pretty well for my family … I have two weeks off a month, I work a long week, but then I have seven consecutive days off and that is seven days to be with my children and make plans.”

“I knew what I was getting myself in. I know my sleeping pattern well, I know my physical activity and what to eat, and I cancel things if I need to recover to make sure I try to mitigate (the negative effects) as much as I can.”

Healthy foodCopyright of theGETTY IMAGESimage
Image captionCompanies should offer their night workers healthy foods.

For Loscar, night work fits a certain type of personality.

“I would say the person who prefers or just do night shifts is someone who is, by nature, a little more introverted . You are exposed less to the public, so you tend to find people who prefer to work at night are people who prefer leave her alone doing her job. “

But 17 years of night shifts have had no effect on your physical or mental health?

“Well, I guess I spent a lot of that time tired,” he laughs.

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