Various Health Risks of Working Night shifts

By Research Writer:  Margaret W. Lavigne 


Is it a necessity to make people work night shift? Will it a better idea to make robots work at night? The health risks of working night shifts is guaranteed and proved. If there is one person gets severely ill, either mentally or physically, it will have massive effect to the happiness of the whole family. Night shift work account for around 10% of the workforce in the Western world, including permanent night shifts, rotating shifts, and irregular schedules. The government should do something about it for the welfare of the masses. 


Working night shifts challenges body’s natural circadian clock. A small-scale study in 2001 reported  that flight attendants who were chronically jet lagged had smaller temporal lobes. A 2008 article in the American Journal of Surgery (Vol. 195, No. 2) reports that well-rested surgeons made fewer errors than their sleep-deprived counterparts.


The biological clock of human beings responds strongly to light that our body knows when to remain active and when to rest. For night shift workers, they sleep during daytime and being awake and alert at night. By doing so, they violates the internal clock and multiple clinical and sociological studies found that only around 63% of shift workers get enough sleep. As high as 75% of shift workers suffer from digestive problems.


In consideration of human biology, working at night violates body’s natural circadian rhythm. The circadian clock fictions like a timer that reminds various glands when to release hormones with the rising and setting of the sun.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the New England Journal of Medicine, 21 million Americans, literally around 20% of full-time workers in the United States, work night shift on a regular basis or rotate in and out of night shifts. People who work night shifts are exposing to various health risks, such as diabetes, heart disease and chronic fatigue.



Body’s Self-healing Power 
Studies found that after stopping shift work for five years, cognitive abilities returned to levels of people who had never worked shifts.


High Blood Sugar and Sleep Problems

When our blood sugar is high, your kidneys will try to get rid of it by removing it from via urination. That’ why some people wake up at midnight, accompanied with thirstiness, and go to the bathroom several times. Those who high blood sugar levels are more likely to dehydrated and suffer from thirstiness. It’s worth nothing that sleep deprivation proved to increase blood sugar levels and the risk of diabetic issues. As the amount of sleep decreases, blood sugar increases.


Night shifts work disrupts social and biological rhythms and increases the risk of metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes.Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that people who slept less than 6 hours a night had more blood sugar complications compared to those who received 8 hours of sleep. There’s a strong connection between sleep problems, depression and high blood sugar levels. Blood glucose control also affect our sleep. Indeed, stress leads to higher blood sugar levels too .


Sleep disturbance is highly associated with diabetes.Those who have high stress levels and high glucose levels are more likely to suffer from insomnia and sleep disturbance. Sleep apnea is the most common sleep disorder in people with diabetes. When your body has high glucose levels, it draws water from your tissues, leading to dehydration and prompting you to get up for water intake. That’s fully explains why high blood sugar levels potentially cause frequent urination.


If your blood glucose is too low, you may also wake up during the night. When our sugar levels fall too low, it might affect the function of our central nervous system and leads to various symptoms, such as hunger, dizziness,nervousness, anxiety, irritability,etc.Untreated severe low blood sugar might resulting in seizures, loss of consciousness, or even death.


Melatonin and Cortisol

Melatonin has a soporific effect on our body. Melatonin also helps regulating body’s temperature rhythm. If you suffer from insomnia due to jet lag, melatonin supplement helps quickly adjust circadian rhythm and sleep cycles. There is lotion with melatonin to help you improve your sleep quality. Night-shift work has been shown to alter cortisol patterns, which potentially lead to metabolic and hormone disruption.


Light regulate our circadian rhythm and the release of melatonin and cortisol changes according to the light. The absence of light induces extended sleep. According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) , we’d better wake up around or before 6 a.m. for the sake of health.

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Blood Sugar Spike

Our body releases growth and other hormones around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., which leads to a higher blood sugar level in the morning. In people with diabetes, the hormone and blood sugar changes potentially lead to a morning blood sugar spike. For those who persistently wake up around a.m. or 4 a.m.,  you might have relatively higher blood sugar levels without awareness. Take that as a signal or reminder and adjust your body by diet changes or muscle-building. 


More than 30 million people in the U.S. are living with diabetes, and around 25% of people with diabetes are unaware they have the disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). There are around 84 million people have prediabetes, among all around 90% of them do not know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).


If someone has prediabetes, their blood glucose will be higher than normal but not quite in the type 2 diabetic range yet, per the NIDDK. Dr. Adimoolam reminds the general public that “A normal person who has no problem with their ability to control blood glucose should never become significantly hyperglycemic.”


Chronic fatigue and frequent urination are common early sign of high blood sugar. If you suffer fatigue regularly right after having a meal, it may have to do with rising blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels affect body’s circulatory system, damaging body’s self-healing ability and leading to slow wounds healing.Over time, untreated high blood sugar cause recurrent infections. High blood sugar levels weaken body’s immune response, making your body vulnerable to infections. Indeed, Women with diabetes are also more prone to UTIs.


High Blood Sugar and Blurred Vision
Dr. Hatipoglu explains that excessive sugar gets trapped in the lens in the middle of the eye, causing a blurred effect. Blurred vision can be temporary.Over time, untreated high blood sugar potentially cause serious symptoms.


Altogether, health can be in danger when extra sugar stay in the bloodstream in the long term.Unlike Type 1 Diabetes, Type 2 diabetes symptoms can be mild and unnoticeable in the beginning and gradually gets worse.

High Blood Sugar and Dental Problems
Glucose is present in saliva as well as your blood.  When there’s too much of sugar in saliva, harmful bacteria in your mouth grow and combine with food particles to create plaque and ultimately leads to tooth decay, cavities, gingivitis, gum disease, and bad breath. Swollen and bleeding gums are the warming signals.


Diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)cause various symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, trouble breathing, dry or flushed skin, fruity-smelling breath and even life-threatening symptoms.


Night Shift Workers

One in five employees in the US works non-standard hours in the evening or night or works rotating shifts due to greater consumer demand for 24 hour services. One third of health workers are shift workers, including ER doctors, paramedics and nurses. 


According to Vila’s research, roughly 40 percent of the nation’s 861,000 police officers work more than 12 hours a day and many of them suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia or excessive sleepiness.


A 2005 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Vol. 352, No. 2) found that medical interns whose shifts exceeded 24 hours were twice likely to have a car crash and five times likely to have a driving near-miss.


Night Shift and Health Risks

Exposure to light while working overnight shifts for several years may reduce levels of melatonin and encourages chronic inflammation.Chronic inflammation facilitates cancer to grow.Night shift has been linked to a wealth of chronic diseases, including obesity, mood disorders, heart disease,depression, diabetes and various types of cancer.Beyond that, sleep deprivation has been shown to alter metabolism and lead to lower immunity.  Also, long-term sleep deprivation guarantee emotional weakness. That’s why habitual night shift work increase the risk of depression and anxiety disorder.


Altogether, working night shifts makes people more vulnerable to disease and infections. There’s a strong link between chronic illness and night shifts. 



Exposure of Blue Light 
Blue light is highly linked to damaged retinal structures, mood disorders, and metabolism issues. Thus, limit your amount of time of using smartphones.


Long-term night shift work is associated with an increased risk of various health problems, ranged from blood sugar imbalance, hormone imbalance, digestive disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, chronic fatigue, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems and obesity. 


Night shift work alters body’s circadian rhythms which responds to natural daylight and darkness. Changes in sleep affect our appetite too. Night shift disrupt our circadian rhythms, which potentially  lead to insomnia, obesity and other chronic illness.


Negative emotions proved to increase our inflammation index, such as sorrow, suppressed anger and depression.


More Info 

Exposure to Room Light before Bedtime Suppresses Melatonin Onset and Shortens Melatonin Duration in Humans



  1. Ways To Prevent Shift Work Disorder
  2. Light, melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle
  3. Alaska Sleep Education Center |Blood Sugar and Sleep Problems: How Blood Sugar Levels Impact Sleep

  4. Rotating night shift work and adherence to unhealthy lifestyle in predicting risk of type 2 diabetes
  5. Healthline|Can Diabetes Affect Your Sleep Schedule?
  6. LIVING WITH DIABETES: Diabetes and night shifts
  7. American Psychological Association: The risks of night work
  8. Time: Is Your Brain on 10 Years of Working the Night Shift


More Info on YouTube

Sleep scientist Dr. Chris Harvey|the effects of night shift work

Is It Better to Work Only Night Shifts, or Bounce Back and Forth?

#circadian misalignment

#Night Shift and Brain function


Margaret W. Lavigne 司馬儀

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